KU News Release

Feb. 9, 2011
Contact: Lynn Watney, 785-842-2184, or Saibal Bhattacharya, 785-864-2058

Kansas Geological Survey receives additional $5 million to study CO2 storage

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LAWRENCE — The Kansas Geological Survey based at the University of Kansas has received a second $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for an ongoing study on the feasibility of storing carbon dioxide underground in Kansas and using CO2 to recover more oil from nearly depleted fields.

The Energy Department awarded the Kansas Geological Survey nearly $5 million for this collaborative effort between government and industry in 2009.

Kansas Geological Survey researchers Lynn Watney and Saibal Bhattacharya are lead investigators for both projects, which will span more than three years and include scientists from the Kansas Geological Survey, KU and Kansas State University’s departments of geology and a number of private companies.

Four additional petroleum companies and three industrial partners who could potentially supply CO2 have joined the new study, which now encompasses all or part of 31 counties from a line east of Wellington and El Dorado to the Colorado border and from the Oklahoma border to a line just north of Larned.

Participation by local industry, which provides access to oil and gas leases and technical know-how, is essential, Bhattacharya said.

“Having the local oil and gas industry as stakeholders will encourage them to participate in infrastructure development related to sequestration and enhanced oil recovery by CO2 injection,” he said.

Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Department of Engergy awards are being used to determine if largely depleted Kansas oil and gas fields in south-central and southwestern Kansas and the Arbuckle saline aquifer that underlies much of the state can be used to safely store CO2 emitted by stationary sources such as electric, cement, ethanol, and fertilizer plants. The researchers also will build models to predict how that CO2 could be used to produce trapped oil in nearly spent fields that is unreachable by traditional methods.

“The new DOE funding provides the resources to expand our evaluation of the benefits of using CO2 to boost oil recovery,” Watney said. “We’re now able to extend our analysis beyond the geologic formations such as the Mississippian reservoirs in the Wellington field and south-central Kansas to include the Chester-Morrow reservoir in southwestern Kansas.”

The investigators are drilling a 5,200-foot deep borehole in the Wellington oil and gas field in Sumner County south of Wichita. A second well in the field, which has produced 20 million barrels of oil since 1927, will be completed in late February.

Samples and data collected from the two holes will provide insight into the subsurface rock units and their capacity to securely contain CO2. The project is aimed at characterizing the subsurface and modeling the movement of underground fluids and will not include any injection of CO2.

Geophysical methods such as seismic reflection, a technique commonly used in oil exploration to create images of underground rocks from the surface, have been used to provide more data on the Wellington field and underlying Arbuckle saline aquifer. The Arbuckle, about 4,000 feet beneath the surface in south-central Kansas, is part of the expansive Ozark Plateau Aquifer System. The highly saline water in the Arbuckle aquifer is not usable and is isolated from shallower freshwater aquifers by impermeable rock units.

Another seismic survey, covering approximately 10 square miles, will be shot in southwestern Kansas in late summer. Data from the surveys will be examined in conjunction with more than 200 additional square miles of seismic data donated by the oil and gas industry.

“Issues such as injection capacity, safety and risks related to CO2 injection will be studied by subjecting geologic models of the subsurface to computer simulations to assess capacities and risk,” Watney said. “The models are created by integrating data collected from three wells drilled as part of this project and numerous existing wells, along with new and existing data from remote sensing, seismic and gravity-magnetic studies.”

Besides investigating the safety of storing industry-emitted CO2, the researchers will build models to predict how that CO2 could be used to produce additional oil.

“This study will help quantify the tonnage of CO2 that can be sequestered in the process of enhanced oil recovery in depleted fields,” said Bhattacharya.

Results from these studies, such as successful characterization of subsurface rocks and modeling activities, could help justify a new industry to capture, transport and store CO2. That could, in turn, enhance state and local economies and reduce the discharge of CO2 into the atmosphere, he said.

“Individually, none of these depleted fields have enough oil-recovery potential to make a CO2 pipeline viable,” said Bhattacharya. “But together, they might justify the investments necessary to make sequestration and enhanced oil recovery from CO2 injection a reality.”

The Kansas Geological Survey also is conducting a separate Department of Energy-funded study on the Arbuckle’s capacity to store CO2 in Ellis County, where researchers are drilling a lateral borehole with Wichita-based industry partners Murfin Drilling Co. and Vess Oil Corp. Total Department of Energy funding of the Kansas Geological Survey’s CO2 sequestration research is $11.5 million.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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