The US Department of Energy announced Tuesday DOE co-funded Weyburn Project has successfully sequestered five million tons of CO2 into the Weyburn Oilfield in Saskatchewan, Canada, while doubling the field’s oil recovery rate. The CO2 used in the project is piped from the Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, ND, and is a byproduct of the plant’s coal gasification process.
According to the press release, if this Carbon Sequestration-Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2-EOR) methodology were used "on a worldwide scale, one-third to one-half of CO2 emissions could be eliminated in the next 100 years and billions of barrels of oil could be recovered." The International Energy Agency has estimated that wide-spread deployment the CO2-EOR methodology used in the Weyburn Project has the potential to eventually store 130 billion metric tons of CO2 worldwide.
According to DOE Secratary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman:
The success of the Weyburn Project could have incredible implications for reducing CO2 emissions and increasing America’s oil production. Just by applying this technique to the oil fields of Western Canada we would see billions of additional barrels of oil and a reduction in CO2 emissions equivalent to pulling more than 200 million cars off the road for a year. The Weyburn Project will provide policymakers, the energy industry, and the general public with reliable information about industrial carbon sequestration and enhanced oil recovery.
[For more on the specifics of CO2-EOR, check out the Green Car Congress post or the Energy Blog post on this news.]
Now, it's good to see news about succesful CO2 sequestration coming from the DOE or other mainstream sources. However, this really isn't anything new. As the press release itself admits, "Before the Weyburn Project, much of the CO2 used in similar U.S. EOR projects has been taken at considerable expense from naturally occurring reservoirs." CO2 sequestration for enhanced oil recovery is not a new or untested technology. It has been succesfully used by the oil industry for over a decade. The only thing new about the Weyburn project is that the CO2 is sourced from industrial emissions and actually does something to combat climate change as well.
For that matter, coal gasification isn't some radically new and untried technology either. Just scan the headlines at Green Car Congress any day of the week for a news item about a new coal-to-liquids plant being built somewhere. They all utilize gasification that allows for the easy seperation of CO2 from the emissions stream. There's nothing new here. All this Weyburn project does is put the two together.
We should have been doing this a long time ago. If this PR helps convince the mainstream that gasification coupled with CO2-EOR is a tried and true technology, then great. But it already has been for some time. The Weyburn project hasn't truly contributed anything that we didn't already know.
What we really need to kick-start CO2 sequestration and coal gasification is some kind of market based incentive - be it a carbon tax or a carbon trading scheme or whatever - that actually encourages industry to take a second look at their co2 emissions. Until that point, CO2 sequestration and IGCC plants will only be used in specific applications and will not see the kind of widespread use that I hope to see from them.