News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, Dec. 16, 2002
If carbon dioxide can be used, it could dramatically change the way oil is produced in much of the state.
Scientists at the Kansas Geological Survey and Tertiary Oil Recovery Project, both at the University of Kansas, are working with local oil companies and several industry and governmental partners to begin the tests, probably in January.
Carbon dioxide has been used to force additional oil from fields in other parts of the country, but not in Kansas. For the past two years, KU researchers have been studying subsurface rock samples and computer models from the Russell County field to see if it is suitable for testing the use of carbon dioxide in Kansas.
"We're ready to move from the computer to the field," said Survey petroleum geologist Martin Dubois.
The tests focus on a ten-acre patch in the Hall-Gurney field, about six miles southeast of Russell. The field, which has produced more than 150 million barrels of oil since its discovery in 1931, produced about 500,000 barrels in 2001. Production has dropped almost in half during the past decade.
The researchers plan to inject water through an existing well into one of the oil-producing rock formations about 3000 feet underground. That test should show whether the water can repressure the depleted field, a first step toward renewed production. If that test is successful, the researchers plan to inject liquid carbon dioxide into a portion of the field within the next six months. That carbon dioxide will come from a recently constructed ethanol plant in Russell.
"Injecting water into the field is a first step in testing the oil reservoir to make sure that it is appropriate for the use of carbon dioxide," said Paul Willhite, co-director of KU's Tertiary Oil Recovery Project. When carbon dioxide is injected into rock formations, it acts as a solvent, stripping some of the remaining oil that was otherwise trapped underground. Then both the oil and some of the carbon dioxide are pumped to the surface.
"For the carbon dioxide test to be economically successful at this location, it will have to help produce an additional 20,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil over the next four years," said Alan Byrnes, a petroleum geologist at the Survey.
If the carbon dioxide forces out enough oil, the technique may have widespread application in Kansas. Byrnes estimates that carbon dioxide might generate millions of additional barrels of Kansas crude.
"If you can prove that this works in central Kansas, it could work in lots of other areas around the state," said Dubois.
Though the Russell ethanol plant could supply enough carbon dioxide for much of the Hall-Gurney field, producers would need larger sources of carbon dioxide for more widespread application. Mostly likely they would look to "geologic" sources of carbon dioxide, places where carbon dioxide occurs naturally underground, particularly in New Mexico and Colorado. Such fields are operated by Kinder Morgan CO2 Company, a partner in the Russell project. That carbon dioxide could be transported to Kansas via pipeline.
In the meantime, however, industrial sources should generate sufficient carbon dioxide for tests and small carbon dioxide flooding projects. If the Hall-Gurney project is successful it might open up a market for carbon dioxide from the Russell plant and future ethanol plants in Kansas. And it could provide a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Because of the possible role of carbon dioxide in global climate change, such underground disposal is considered environmental preferable.
The Russell location is particularly attractive because the local ethanol plant, the Hall-Gurney field, and Russell's recently completed electrical generation plant are so close together. Waste heat from the new power plant is transferred to the nearby ethanol plant where it is used to ferment grain, which is purchased locally. That fermentation produces ethanol, which is used as an additive in fuels. The fermentation also produces carbon dioxide that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as dry ice. Some of the Russell carbon dioxide is shipped to Salina and used in a plant that makes frozen pizzas.
If water-injection tests at the oil field are positive, carbon dioxide will be trucked from the ethanol plant to the oil field. Researchers plan to pump about one truckload of carbon dioxide per day into the subsurface for about six months, then alternate injections of carbon dioxide and water for the next four years. About half of the carbon dioxide will come back to the surface with the oil that is produced; the other half will remain underground.
"Everybody involved is eager to get some carbon dioxide into the ground," said Jim Daniels of Murfin Drilling Company, Inc., the company that operates the field and is of the partners in the project. "This could have a very significant economic impact on the region."
KU's research on the use of carbon dioxide to produce oil from the Hall-Gurney field is being funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Kansas Department of Commerce and Housing. Other partners in the project include Murfin Drilling Co., Inc., Wichita; John O. Farmer, Inc., Russell; White Eagle Resources Corp., Louisville, Colorado; Kinder-Morgan CO2 Co., Houston; and U.S. Energy Partners, LP, Russell.
"We're excited about the potential of carbon dioxide to reinvigorate oil fields in the state," said Eric Mork of ICM, Inc., located in Colwich, Kansas, part-owner of U.S. Energy Partners. "It'll take a few years to see if this is viable, but it could give a great boost to oil producers and Kansas communities."