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U.S.: Test to bury global warming gas a success

Carbon dioxide from an industrial plant in North Dakota enters a Canadian oil field via the gray pipe in this photo.
Carbon dioxide from an industrial plant in North Dakota enters a Canadian oil field via the gray pipe in this photo.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An experimental project in Canada to inject carbon dioxide into oil fields has proven successful, removing 5 million tons of the heat-trapping “greenhouse” gas, while enhancing oil recovery, the Energy Department said Tuesday.

If the methodology could be applied worldwide, from one-third to one-half of the carbon dioxide emissions that go into the atmosphere could be eliminated over the next century and billions of barrels of additional oil could be recovered, the department said.

The project is a joint effort by the Energy Department, the Canadian government and private industry. Carbon dioxide is piped from the Great Plains Synfuels plant in Beulah, N.D., where it is a byproduct from coal gasification, to the Weyburn oil field in Saskatchewan, Canada.

“The success of the Weyburn Project could have incredible implications on reducing CO2 emissions and increasing America’s oil production,” said Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

Potential like 200 million cars a year
Bodman, who is visiting the Middle East, said in a statement released by his office that if the process were used in all the oil fields of western Canada, “we would see billions of additional barrels of oil and a reduction of CO2 emissions equivalent to pulling more than 200 million cars off the road for a year.”

The completion of the first phase of the experimental project gives government officials and industry an indication of how carbon sequestration can both reduce the risk of climate change and allow enhanced oil recovery, extending the oil field’s life.

Carbon dioxide, produced from the burning of fossil fuels, is the leading so-called “greenhouse” gas because when released into the atmosphere it creates a heat-trapping blanket. Many scientists believe the growth of manmade sources of these gases will lead to a warming of the earth if the trend is not reversed.

60 percent more oil
In the Weyburn project, the carbon dioxide when pumped into the oil reservoir increased the pressure and brought more oil to the surface. It increased the field’s production by 10,000 barrels a day and “demonstrated the technical and economic feasibility of permanent carbon sequestration,” the DOE said in a statement.

Such a process can enhance oil recovery up to 60 percent, extend the life of aging oil fields by decades, and provide a permanent repository for the carbon dioxide in geologic formations, the DOE said.

The oil industry has injected wells with natural sources of carbon dioxide to a limited degree, but never industrial sources or to the degree envisioned by the Bush administration.

Now that the first phase of the Weyburn project is completed, researchers are developing a manual on the findings for industry. They also will expand the carbon injection process to an adjacent field where the plan to develop try to improve injection efficiencies and refine the process, according to the DOE statement.