Way Down in the Hole - Carbon Capture and Sequestration’s Growing Role in the Energy Industry

Admittedly, the idea of capturing carbon dioxide, cooling and compressing it into a weird, neither-liquid-nor-gas state, and pumping it deep underground for permanent storage would have baffled the crude oil wildcatters and pipeline builders that created the modern energy industry back in the 1940s and ’50s. They’d surely say, “You’re proposin’ to do what?!” But times have changed. The oil and gas business is entering an extraordinary era of transition, and producers, midstreamers, and refineries alike need to keep abreast of what’s happening regarding carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), how it will affect them, and — ideally — figure out ways to profit from it. That’s the impetus behind today’s RBN blog, in which we begin a deep dive into efforts to reduce emissions of man-made CO2 by capturing it from industrial sources and piping it to specially designed wells for permanent storage.

Sequestration isn’t just for juries deciding a high-profile case. It’s the permanent storage of CO2 in the ground — way down in subsurface geologic formations — with the aim of keeping that important greenhouse gas (GHG) permanently out of the atmosphere and slowing the pace of climate change. CO2 sequestration has become a hot topic in the energy space the past few years, and it would be fair to say that, with ESG issues and the COP26 meeting in Glasgow enjoying such high-profile attention, sequestration is going to be front of mind for producers, midstreamers, and refiners as far out as they go with their planning cycles.

We’ll begin our blog series with an overview, then dive deeper and deeper, careful to avoid “the bends” as we do. First, a couple of definitions. If CO2 is captured and stored, and that’s all, the process is called CCS and utilizes a Class VI well (right side of Figure 1) for long-term storage in saline formations. On the other hand, if the CO2 is used for some other process before it’s stored via a Class II well, it is called carbon capture, use, and sequestration (CCUS) — the most common example being enhanced oil recovery (EOR, left side of Figure 1).

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