FAQs about MEI’s Plan to Capture and Store GHGs for EOR

How is “clean” energy from fossil fuels better than wind or solar power?

MEI’s clean energy plan is not better than plans to generate wind or solar power; it’s just expedient, making efficient use of the existing fossil fuel infrastructure. Since the world isn’t going to stop using fossil fuels, we need to clean up the way we produce and consume them. A hundred years from now, in hindsight, CO2 capture and storage for EOR will be a small but integral part of a natural progression as we responsibly deplete various earth resources and then move on to the next generation of fuel.

What is the next generation of fuel?

Nuclear was a bust, so hydrogen appears to be where we’re trying to head, and fuel cells are the way we’re going to use the hydrogen fuel to generate power, at home and in our cars. Fuel cells are very clean, but the hydrogen they use will be produced from fossil fuels for a long time to come, and until hydrogen is produced efficiently from water using just the sun’s rays, we’re still going to be faced with billions of tons of waste CO2 per year from hydrogen production.

How will MEI actually reduce GHG emissions and “capture” waste CO2?

Five different ways: 1. Capture the pure streams of waste CO2 that already exist as waste products from current industrial practices, like steam reforming and coal gasification. 2. Remove the carbon from the fossil fuel prior to combustion, in the form of CO2, and then combust the resultant hydrogen. 3. Replace large, inefficient power generation facilities with smaller, more efficient distributed generation facilities. 4. Build fuel cells, which have NOx and SOx emissions, an order of magnitude lower than conventional combustion machines and have purer streams of CO2 to capture. 5. Plant trees on our open fee lands as a short-term sink for CO2.

How does MEI know CO2 capture and storage will work?

It already does work, its called EOR in the oil industry, for enhanced oil recovery. We are not proposing any new technologies, we just need to demonstrate the economic viability of capturing waste gas for EOR, and more people will start doing it.

Aren’t there different types of EOR?

Yes, around the world, millions of barrels per day of oil are already produced under various EOR strategies, which include steam driving heavy oil out of shallow reservoirs here in California, gas flooding deeper, light oil reservoirs like in West Texas, and other more esoteric methods such as fire and polymer floods.

Why isn’t everyone already doing CO2 EOR?

Many companies are, but usually only in places where CO2 occurs naturally and can be produced cheaply from the ground. Someday, all energy companies may be forced to capture and store their waste CO2 by government mandate or through carbon taxation. Right now, because of deregulation, things have never been better for starting more EOR projects, and we expect to see lots more initiated, without regulation.

Isn’t CO2 dangerous?

It is not combustible, and that’s a big safety concern with a gas. In high enough concentrations to replace all the oxygen available, CO2 can be dangerous, but it isn’t usually classified as a hazardous material.

Won’t the CO2 just leak back to the surface after we store it underground?

The oil and gas which comes out of the rock reservoirs and provides the “space” to put back the CO2, has been down there in the rocks in many cases for millions of years, so the CO2 we put back should stay there just as long.

How much CO2 does it take to drive out a barrel of oil from the ground?

In our mature CO2 flood in west Texas we inject about 8,000 cubic feet of CO2 gas to drive each barrel of oil out of the ground, which is kind of an average number for west Texas.

Does MEI presently own any oil fields in which to store GHGs?

Yes. An example is a small, depleted oil property we own in California, which has oil reservoirs with an estimated 6 million barrels of oil produceable under a miscible CO2 flood. If we replace each barrel with 8,000 cubic feet of captured waste CO2, then we will have stored 48 billion cubic feet of CO2 underground at the end of the life of the field. At 0.11 pounds per cubic foot, that’s 2.4 million tons of CO2 stored, in just one small oil field.

What can I do to reduce GHG emissions?

No single GHG reduction strategy will work by itself, so we all have to do our part. If you’re an energy consumer, turn the lights off when you leave the room! Carpool! Demand better mileage from your SUV manufacturer. Invest in clean and green technologies. Purchase clean and green energy. Consider generating your own power. Write your congressman and demand we stop debating and start reducing emissions of GHGs in the face of global warming and climate change. If you’re an energy producer, don’t assume the atmosphere has an infinite capacity to absorb your waste GHGs. Rather, assume responsibility for your waste gases, and start finding ways to make less of them and ways to capture more of them for storage.

Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR)

EOR – Worldwide, over two million barrels of oil per day (bopd) are being produced from various EOR projects. In 1998, of 199 active U.S. EOR projects producing a total of 759,965 bopd, 66 projects were miscible CO2 floods accounting for over 179,000 bopd of production. U.S. EOR from steam injection accounted for 419,349 bopd of production, while hydrocarbon gas injection accounted for 102,053 bopd. Almost all U.S. steam floods are located in California, because of the state’s abundance of shallow, “heavy” oil, and almost all U.S. CO2 floods are in west Texas, because there’s a source of CO2 nearby to flood the deep, “light” oil reservoirs. (The above numbers do not include waterflooding, even though waterflooding an oil reservoir is common practice, many times as a pre-requisite to gas flooding, and accounts for significant enhanced oil production worldwide. Today, in California alone, active waterflood projects were injecting 2.2 million barrels of water per day adding about 140,000 bopd of production.)

EOR with CO2 – Basically, a miscible gas flood of an oil reservoir works because an injected gas becomes miscible, or becomes one liquid phase, with the oil, and helps the oil move through the rock reservoirs and up and out the wells. A gas (like CO2) is continually added to an oil reservoir by being compressed and pushed in, and when it is produced back out with the enhanced oil, it is recaptured and reinjected along with new gas, produced back out, added to new, re-injected, and so on, until as much enhanced oil has been produced as possible. MEI owns an interest in a mature CO2 flood of an oil reservoir in west Texas, started in 1983, which now adds 10 million cubic feet per day (cfpd) of new CO2 (piped in from New Mexico) to 30 million cfpd of CO2 being recycled from the enhanced oil production. That’s 40 million cubic feet of CO2, weighing 2,000 tons, handled and re-handled, every day.

Storage Capacity of Oil Reservoirs – A rule of thumb for miscible floods, considering the present base cost of CO2 and price of oil, is to (hopefully) produce each barrel of oil by adding only 5 to 10 thousand cubic feet of CO2 to the reservoir via the stream of cycling gas. After many years of production, when the returns of oil have diminished to the point of being uneconomic, the flood is shut in, and there would then be 5-10 thousand cubic feet of CO2 down in the reservoir for every enhanced barrel of oil produced during the life of the project. The 179,000 bopd produced under CO2 flood mentioned above are therefore storing 1 to 2 billion cubic feet of CO2 per day – that’s 75,000 tons a day. Too bad that’s not all captured waste CO2!

CO2 EOR Limitations – Economically successful EOR projects are difficult to predict because ultimately they are dependent on the vagueries of the geology miles below the earth’s surface, and the price of oil, both of which are difficult to predict with certainty. Traditionally, the farther away from abundant, naturally occurring CO2 in a relatively pure state, the less economic viability there was for a CO2 flood. The west Texas CO2 floods are near the CO2 deposits produced in New Mexico, and that’s why distant California has no active CO2 floods. But that’s changing as the energy industries wake up to the fact that their waste CO2 is a valuable resource for EOR.