Boosted oil extraction drives CO2 burial

The main driver for the emerging technique of carbon burial remains its role in boosting oil extraction, according to a leading clean energy firm specialising in carbon capture and burial research.

The technique of carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves separating out CO2 from industrial fumes to then store it underground, in depleted oil fields or under the seabed. Pumping CO2 into almost-depleted oil fields in this way has the added advantage of helping squeeze out remaining oil reserves.

“We are fortunate to have a driver today for CO2 capture – enhanced oil recovery,” Lionel Kambeitz, the CEO of Canadian firm HTC Purenergy, told an audience at the Canadian High Commission in London on Monday.

He pointed out that fossil fuels would inevitably continue to play a major role in the world’s energy supply. Over the next 6 years emission increases from China alone will wipe out global Kyoto emission cuts four times over, he said.

“Given that coal accounts for about 40% of global power production and about 40% of CO2 emissions, and that coal fired plants have 50 year life-spans, it is imperative that we reduce emissions from current plants at the same time as we develop new sources of fuel which produce lower emissions,” said Mr Kambeitz.

Without the financial driver of boosting oil recovery CCS would remain wholly dependent on financial help from governments, which is insufficient to make full-scale CCS use profitable at present, he said.

CCS enthusiasts like Mr Kambeitz hope that this is a necessary transition for the technology, and that government incentives and carbon taxes will cut its dependence on oil recovery in the future.

For now, ironically, it is the potential to suck more oil out of the ground that drives the technique used to bury carbon emissions produced by burning fossil fuels.

Carbon burial has recently been receiving much attention from the UK government and Europe. It is reluctantly accepted by environmentalists like Friends of the Earth as a way of “cleaning” greenhouse gas emissions.

Although oil companies have been using CO2 from natural sources for “enhanced oil recovery”, as it is known, since the 1970s, it is now recognised as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel plants both by governments and energy companies.

Mr Kambeitz’s comments preceded an announcement this week by energy giants Shell and Statoil of plans for the world’s biggest CO2 burial project to date.

The companies plan to bury industrial CO2 off the coast of Norway, using the technique to enhance oil recovery, but will still need financial support from the Norwegian government for the project to proceed, they said.

By Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie