The Next Trillion-dollar Business

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Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) can allow oil companies to resume extraction of crude oil at previously abandoned facilities. Image-irgc

In past decades, oil wells were considered ‘spent wells’ when only one-third of their total volume was pumped to the surface for our use.

It turns out that the astonishingly-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, and until recently, much of the global oil reserve has lain dormant in so-called ‘spent’ oilfields.

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) can allow oil companies to resume extraction of crude oil at previously abandoned facilities.

This kind of CCS is a fine way to alleviate greenhouse gas emissions – storing the CO2 deep underground forever and helping to help bring crude oil to the surface.

Recently, where vast quantities of CO2 are available locally from industry, millions of tons of CO2 gas have been pumped deep into the underground crude basin, increasing the volume and raising the overall pressure of the oil reservoir, thereby ‘forcing’ more crude oil to the surface.

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.

Carbon capture and  sequestration
Carbon capture and sequestration schematic diagram. Photo-DoE

So, why isn’t it 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 in use for that purpose. But two factors have (so far) limited more CCS injection for oilfield rejuvenation:

  1. The remote locations of some oilfields can limit the use of industrial CO2 emissions for oilfield injection use, as pipelines to deliver the gasses to capped wells are expensive.
  2. The high energy costs of pumping greenhouse gasses deep underground at high pressure and pumping the crude oil up and out.

And, Voila! Just like that, high energy costs are no longer a factor in the equation, thanks to the dramatic fall in solar panel prices!

What? It’s true! Up ‘till now, the high cost of electrical energy has prevented many CCS projects from seeing the light of day. But solar costs have now dropped so dramatically that free energy from the Sun is being harnessed to inject CO2 gasses deep underground to rejuvenate those 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 the point. But each year, our civilization consumes more crude oil producing billions more tons of greenhouse gasses. 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 fact that millions of tons of CO2 per year are 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 most of the industry-produced CO2 could be thusly 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?

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