Carbon Capture Will Extend Oil Production by 84 Years, Industry Study Finds

Conor here: In addition to prolonging oil production as the following piece lays out, there are also major risks from the pipelines that carry the captured CO2 to where it’s pumped back into the ground.From Bold Nebraska:

In the event of a carbon pipeline rupture or leak, an explosive plume of CO2 gas can emerge, odorless and colorless, an asphyxiant that can suffocate all living beings, and prevent combustion vehicles like cars from starting to enable an escape to safety.

This happened in 2020 in Satartia, Mississippi. Details from Huff Post:

It was just after 7 p.m. when residents of Satartia, Mississippi, started smelling rotten eggs. Then a greenish cloud rolled across Route 433 and settled into the valley surrounding the little town. Within minutes, people were inside the cloud, gasping for air, nauseated and dazed.

Some two dozen individuals were overcome within a few minutes, collapsing in their homes; at a fishing camp on the nearby Yazoo River; in their vehicles. Cars just shut off, since they need oxygen to burn fuel. Drivers scrambled out of their paralyzed vehicles, but were so disoriented that they just wandered around in the dark.

The first call to Yazoo County Emergency Management Agency came at 7:13 p.m. on February 22, 2020.

“CALLER ADVISED A FOUL SMELL AND GREEN FOG ACROSS THE HIGHWAY,” read the message that dispatchers sent to cell phones and radios of all county emergency personnel two minutes later.

First responders mobilized almost immediately, even though they still weren’t sure exactly what the emergency was. Maybe it was a leak from one of several nearby natural gas pipelines, or chlorine from the water tank.

The first thought, however, was not the carbon dioxide pipeline that runs through the hills above town, less than half a mile away. Denbury Inc, then known as Denbury Resources, operates a network of CO2 pipelines in the Gulf Coast area that inject the gas into oil fields to force out more petroleum. While ambient CO2 is odorless, colorless and heavier than air, the industrial CO2 in Denbury’s pipeline has been compressed into a liquid, which is pumped through pipelines under high pressure. A rupture in this kind of pipeline sends CO2 gushing out in a dense, powdery white cloud that sinks to the ground and is cold enough to make steel so brittle it can be smashed with a sledgehammer.

By Geoff Dembicki, an investigative climate journalist based in New York City. He is author of The Petroleum Papers and Are We Screwed? Originally published at DeSmog.

A major Canadian oil field in the province of Saskatchewan would likely have reached the end of its life eight years ago. But thanks to carbon capture and storage, a technology widely touted by the oil and gas industry and some political leaders as a key solution for climate change, the field could still be producing 1.5 million barrels of oil annually by the year 2100.

That’s according to calculations from Calgary-based senior geological advisor Menhwei Zhao, who authored a paper about his findings in the February 2024 issue of the AAPG Bulletin, a journal published by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

Though oil and gas producers have since the 1970s been capturing carbon dioxide from their operations and then pumping it into depleted oil wells, a process known as “enhanced oil recovery,” few studies “demonstrate in detail how CO2 injection impacts oil production and extends the lifespan of the oil pools,” Zhao writes.

He analyzed more than 22 years of production data from the Weyburn Midale oil pool, which since 2000 has been receiving carbon dioxide injections. It’s the world’s longest-running enhanced oil recovery project using carbon capture and storage. Zhao concluded that “without CO2 injection the pool would have ended its life by 2016,” but that “enhanced oil recovery could extend the pool’s lifespan to 39 or even 84 more years.”

That’s deeply worrying news for the climate, according to David Schlissel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a research nonprofit that focuses on the clean energy transition. “The fact that the oilfield would have been retired,” he told DeSmog, “and now it could conceivably go past the year 2100 is astounding and frightening.”

Zhao said that even though he focused on a specific project in Canada he would expect to see “similar results” for largescale carbon capture and storage projects around the world: decades of extended oil production for depleted fields — or “pools” as he refers to them — that otherwise would have to be shut down.

Brazilian oil major Petrobras injected a record 10.6 million tons of CO2 underground in 2022 that went towards extracting more oil. Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to increase enhanced oil recovery. And U.S. companies like Occidental continue to expand the technology in oil-producing regions such as the Permian Basin.

“Oil pools are all different — different geology, different quality,” Zhao told DeSmog of the global prospects for the technology. “So the reaction to CO2 injection might be different. But overall, it should help oil production for sure.” It’s a win-win for the industry and climate, he writes, because “most of the injected CO2 is permanently stored in the old oil pools.”

There is a lot of dispute around that among climate and energy experts, however. A DeSmog investigation of 12 large-scale carbon capture projects around the world found “a litany of missed carbon capture targets” as companies failed to properly bury the greenhouse gas or in some cases simply vented it into the atmosphere.

Writing about enhanced oil recovery earlier this year, Harvard University professor Naomi Oreskes noted that “every new barrel of oil and cubic foot of gas sold and burned is putting more CO2 into the atmosphere. So not only do these kinds of projects not help, but they perpetuate our use of fossil fuels at a critical moment in history when we need to do the opposite.”

Huge Public Subsidies 

The AAPG Bulletin study comes as the Canadian and Albertan governments prepare to give upwards of $15.3 billion in tax credits to the country’s largest oil sands producers for building carbon capture and storage projects. The U.K. government is meanwhile promising £20 billion in subsidies and U.S. oil and gas producers can obtain a tax credit of $85 for every tonne of carbon dioxide they bury in underground geological formations (the credit is lowered to $60 per tonne if the CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery).

Ostensibly these huge public subsidies are for lowering global greenhouse gas emissions. The Biden administration argues that “large-scale deployment” of carbon capture and storage technologies “is crucial to addressing the climate crisis.”

But the vast majority of the carbon dioxide being buried by the oil and gas industry is currently being used to extract more oil. As DeSmog reported last year, 22 of the world’s 32 commercial carbon capture facilities use captured CO2 to prolong the life of aging oil wells.

The potential for enhanced oil recovery using captured carbon dioxide is vast. “Of the total of 600 billion barrels of oil that have been discovered in the United States, approximately 400 billion barrels are unrecoverable by conventional methods. Half of that unrecoverable oil (200 billion barrels) is at reasonable depths at which [enhanced oil recovery] may be applicable,” the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated.

‘Produce Oil and Gas Forever’

Oil and gas producers insist that even if carbon capture is used for oil production it’s still beneficial for the climate because the buried carbon neutralizes the climate impact of burning the new oil. Using such technology, “there’s no reason not to produce oil and gas forever,” Vicki Hollub, CEO of the U.S. company Occidental Petroleum, told NPR last year.

That argument relies on deeply flawed math, Schlissel counters. He points to U.S. government calculations showing that injecting a metric tonne of carbon dioxide into an aging oil well can produce up to three barrels of oil. Those three barrels, when burned, release nearly 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. “You’ve wiped out the savings from capturing the CO2,” he said.

The ultimate impact is to prolong our dependence on oil and gas. When the Weyburn carbon capture project in Saskatchewan was first announced in 1997 it was promoted as a way to extend the life of an aging oil field by 25 years, and then later touted as “a transitional technology that will allow the world to meet climate change challenges.”

More than a quarter century later, the Weyburn field is “still going strong,” according to Pipeline Online. “There’s a billion barrels of oil still in this reservoir,” one expert told the industry publication in 2022.

Zhao’s recent calculations in the AAPG Bulletin suggest that the project, and many others like it, can keep producing oil long past the 2050 deadline that scientists say is necessary for achieving net-zero emissions worldwide and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

That demonstrates to experts like Charles Harvey, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies carbon capture and storage, that the huge amounts of taxpayer dollars going toward this technology under the pretense of lowering global emissions are in fact bolstering the fossil fuels at the heart of the climate crisis.

“Subsidizing this tilts the playing field away from technologies that don’t produce CO2 to begin with,” he told DeSmog, such as truly low-carbon energy sources like wind and solar. “And so it leads to a bigger market for oil.”

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12 comments

  1. i just dont like the gravy

    We really are determined to make the future look like Blade Runner 2049, aren’t we?

    Reply
    1. esop

      In the Montezuma Hills near Rio Vista,CA, CRC ( a Cal oil recovery co) was seeking to lease the old gas fields for CO2 storage. Turns out that there is no telling when old wells were or were nor capped, or leaked. Seems when tested CO2 can escape and even kill the sheep while grazing. Local towns have killed these plans.

      Reply
  2. The Rev Kev

    ‘Using such technology, “there’s no reason not to produce oil and gas forever,” Vicki Hollub, CEO of the U.S. company Occidental Petroleum, told NPR last year.’

    And there it is right there. They do not want to phase out oil but to keep on pumping it till the end of time. Any technologies that are invented to replace technologies that require oil will be sidelined as they want to keep things going just the way that they are.

    Just in passing, leaking CO2 is bad as shown by what happened in 2020 in Satartia, Mississippi but I was immediately reminded of another incident involving CO2 but in this case it was natural-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Nyos_disaster

    Reply
    1. Dr. John Carpenter

      That’s always the goal. They are never looking for anything but ways to maintain business as usual, or justification to keep kicking the can down the road. It’s all about nothing fundamentally changing.

      Reply
    2. furnace

      Man, I miss when people took peak oil more or less seriously. Leaving aside everything else that is more pressing, such as climate change, do they not realize that oil is a finite resource? Even if you pump the earth full of CO2 it’ll still one day end. That is not to mention that negative net-energy extraction is probable to come much sooner anyway.

      Reply
      1. Cetzer

        “negative net-energy”
        There will be lots of negative vibrations before that – When the gains from fossil fuel harvesting start nearing the ratios of the good old times: 85% or even 90% of the population needed to work the soil to nourish all (100%), if the gods permit.
        I believe that “negative net-energy” might only be achieved in very few cases with the help of crazy subsidies or (Saudi) kings shouting: A well, a well! My kingdom for a gushing well!
        In theoretical terms of EROI it is already debatable, if wars like Gulf, Donbass?? count as Investment, but those future ones in Venezuela, Iran…

        Reply
  3. Troy

    Yeah, this is probably grift. The prairie provinces tar sands projects have been money sinks for a while now, far better at extracting subsidies out of the Canadian federal and provincial governments than profit from bitumen.

    At some point, Canada’s going to have to extract itself out of the business of bitumen entirely. But facing reality here is probably something Canadian politicians are not prepared to do, because the illusion of profitability from the tar sands is all Canada has left.

    Reply
    1. cousinAdam

      Money sink is a good descriptor. Because it’s apparently unfeasable to refine near the source, it must be transported. At first by pipe which requires adding a ‘diluent’ to get it to flow at all (to call it “tar” implies that it’s somewhat liquid – not so much) What’s in this diluent, you ask? Obviously solvents, certainly quite toxic and probably carcinogenic and likely ‘proprietary’, so don’t ask. When it reaches rail, it gets loaded into (very) lengthy strings of tank cars for transport to refineries. I used to live in New York’s Hudson River valley, about 100mi north of NYC and would watch these “dilbit trains” (well over 100 cars long) on their way to NJ refineries. I’d heard through local media that these shipments were redistributed and ‘re-hitched’ at freight yards in Albany, as per usual located in poor neighborhoods and at definite risk from spill incidents. There was no disclosure to the local population of the toxic nature of these cargoes but numerous large quantities of shiny new black chemical transport cars raised a few eyebrows – certainly raised mine – and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that the cargo is petrochemical in nature (with nasty additives that are removed during refinement and returned to sender in the same tanker cars). I left the area in 2015, but would guess the trains are still rolling – I doubt any new refineries have been brought online in the neighborhood of the tar sands.

      Reply
  4. John Steinbach

    The costs of CO2 capture, storage & transportation both financially & in terms of energy used is quite high, $15 to $130 per ton. Even if it were not being used to extend the life of oil fields but just stored, the CO2 emissions generated during the process my well equal or exceed the emissions avoided.

    Reply
  5. Francesco

    To extend oil production by 84 years, you must first find it. All the oil that will be consumed after 2055 has yet to be discovered but for each barrel consumed only a smaller portion is replaced. The entire economy depends on oil, primarily agriculture which feeds 8 billion people. We read of great discoveries off the coasts of Guyana and Brazil. Overall this is less than 6 months of annual consumption. The recent discovery off Namibia is estimated to be equivalent to less than 4 months of global consumption and will produce nothing for 10 years. Anything that is considered savings is essentially backed by oil and not by central banks. The premature end of oil will bring much bigger problems than climate change.

    Reply
  6. Phenix

    https://www.quaise.energy/

    I am hopeful that this solution actually works. They are moving to field trials this year and will have results next year.

    The latest news I read about this company is that they completed drilling a bore hole in a basalt column.

    If this technique works then they are able to use retired coal plants and run them with geothermal heat/steam instead.

    Reply

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