by John Brian Shannon
High energy costs to pump crude oil from the bottom two-thirds of an oil reservoir is one of two main reasons that some of the largest oil wells have been capped and abandoned. Therefore, until recently much of the global proven reserves have lain dormant in so-called ‘ageing’ or ‘spent’ oilfields.
Recently, and where vast quantities of CO2 are available locally from industry, millions of tons of CO2 gas have already been pumped deep into the underground crude, increasing the volume and raising the overall pressure of the oil reservoir, thereby ‘forcing’ more crude oil to the surface. This is starting to become a common practice in Canada, the U.S.A., and in Saudi Arabia.
More often than not, this process has made economic sense based on it’s own economic merit, but government subsidies have also been employed on and off over the years — on an experimental and case-by-case basis.
So, why isn’t this being done everywhere if it is such a great idea? It turns out that much of the industry-produced CO2 that is available for CCS use is already being used for that purpose. But two factors have (so far) limited more CCS injection for oilfield rejuvenation:
- The remote locations of some oilfields can limit the use of industrial CO2 emissions for use, as pipelines to deliver the gasses to capped wells are expensive.
- The high greenhouse gasses deep underground at high pressure — and pumping the crude oil up the pipe and out through the wellhead costs of pumping supercritical (liquified)
And… Voila! Just like that, high energy costs are no longer a factor in that equation — thanks to the dramatic fall in solar panel prices over the past 26 months! What?
It’s true! Up ‘till now, the high cost of all kinds of energy have prevented many CCS projects from going forward, as Carbon Capture and Storage requires huge amounts of energy. But solar costs have now dropped so dramatically that free energy from the Sun is being harnessed to inject liquified CO2 deep underground to rejuvenate massive oilfields — while at the same time, sequestering millions of tons of harmful greenhouse gasses.
It’s a win-win for the environment. Some might argue that point. But each year, our civilization is consuming more crude oil producing billions more tons of greenhouse gasses.
“The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tonnes (21.3 gigatonnes) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, but it is estimated that natural processes can only absorb about half of that amount, so there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year…” — Wikipedia Fossil Fuel
We can continue to allow those gasses to escape unimpeded into the atmosphere, further warming the planet — or we can inject billions of tons of these gasses underground where they will stay for millennia.
The millions of tons of CO2 per year already being injected underground (now) and billions of tons of CO2 per year (in the near future) can only be seen as positive. If only all of the industry-produced CO2 could be so treated! Suddenly, that noble goal seems a lot closer to becoming a reality.
Who could have predicted that the oil industry and the solar industry would become such strong and complementary partners in this great and lofty enterprise?
Highly Recommended CCS articles:
- The Investment for 2013: Solar Oil Extraction (oilprice.com – Energy Intelligence Report)
- Carbon Capture for Oil May Generate $4.3 Billion for Scotland – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- How to Make CO2 Better at Extracting Oil (scientificamerican.com)
- A Guide to Carbon Capture and Storage (scientificamerican.com)
- The Carbon Contained in Global Oils (carnegieendowment.org)
JOHN BRIAN SHANNON
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