Bakken game changer?

EERC researcher eyes ‘win-win-win project’ to cut emissions, store carbon and boost oil production

Charles Gorecki

A $3.2-million award from the Department of Energy will allow EERC researcher Charlie Gorecki to establish a field laboratory in the Cut Bank Oil Field of Montana, part of the Williston Basin, to investigate the geologic storage of carbon dioxide associated with enhanced oil recovery, and how this approach could be expanded across the Williston Basin. Image courtesy of Kari Suedel/EERC.

Can coal-fired power plants produce fewer emissions? And can those emissions be captured and used to boost oil production?

The UND Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is working on answering these questions.

A $3.2 million award from the DOE will allow the EERC to establish a field laboratory in the Cut Bank Oil Field, located in the Montana portion of the Williston Basin. This field laboratory will be used to investigate the geologic storage of carbon dioxide associated with enhanced oil recovery, and how this approach could be expanded across the Williston Basin. The Williston Basin contains some of the largest oil reserves in North America.

“This project is a win-win-win,” said Charlie Gorecki, director of subsurface research and development at the EERC. “CO2 enhanced oil recovery can lower carbon emissions, permanently store CO2, and produce more oil. This technique could link oil and coal, generate jobs and increase tax revenues.”

Stacked reservoirs

The Cut Bank Oil Field has geology similar to the North Dakota portion of the Williston Basin, including stacked reservoirs (multiple oil-bearing zones of rock stacked on top of each other and separated by non-oil-bearing rock). Gorecki and his team will test the feasibility of injecting and storing CO2 underground. The injected carbon dioxide mixes with the oil and decreases viscosity so the oil flows more easily to a production well. At the same time, the CO2 enhanced oil recovery process results in locking the carbon dioxide in the subsurface, storing it permanently.

“One challenge we plan to address is understanding how the injected CO2 and affected oil move in stacked reservoirs,” said Gorecki. “We have not done this before.”

Widespread deployment of carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery across the Williston Basin could take advantage of carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and other industry sources.

 “We want to explore the potential of using CO2 to enhance oil and gas recovery instead of venting it into the atmosphere,” he said. “We will take the lessons we learn from the Cut Bank oil field and extend them to the North Dakota portion Williston Basin. This is one of a dozen EERC projects all related to advancing environmentally-conscious energy production,” said Gorecki.

Charles Gorecki

Gorecki, director of subsurface research and development at the EERC, said the project could prove to be a “win-win-win” by lowering carbon emissions, permanently storing carbon dioxide and producing more oil. “This technique could link oil and coal, generate jobs and increase tax revenues,” he added. Image courtesy of Kari Suedel/EERC.

Big picture

North Dakota has the potential for nearly 1 billion barrels of additional oil recovery from formations like those being investigated in Montana. In addition, the Bakken oil fields, which are in the heart of the Williston Basin, contain much more than that.

“The injection of CO2 into the Bakken could be a game changer to produce even more oil,” Gorecki said, “however, more research in this area is needed.”

To produce that oil, a lot of carbon dioxide is required. Luckily, North Dakota is also home to a number of coal-fired power plants that could provide the needed carbon dioxide.

The EERC is working with Minnkota Power on “Project Tundra,” which is looking at the feasibility of capturing carbon dioxide from its Milton R. Young Station power plant and using it for enhanced oil recovery.  Any carbon dioxide not immediately needed for that could be stored in non-oil bearing saline formations.

Recently, North Dakota became the first state in the nation to receive primary enforcement authority (primacy) for Class VI injection wells from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“CO2 injection in saline formations is a much more streamlined process with regulatory primacy,” said Gorecki. “We have the expertise in North Dakota to manage our own resources, which is a very good thing.”

“Projects like the field laboratory at Cut Bank and Project Tundra could help increase domestic oil production, while decreasing carbon emissions,” Gorecki said. “North Dakota is the second-largest oil producer in the United States, with about 1.2 to 1.3 million barrels a day. This could help create a situation where we are more energy secure and less reliant on oil from other countries.”