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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, Nov. 25, 2003

Oil recovery test to begin Dec. 4; could result in $1 billion economic impact

LAWRENCE--A new chapter in Kansas oil production could begin Dec. 4 when researchers from the University of Kansas and representatives of the state's oil industry begin injecting carbon dioxide into a Russell County oil field. If the oil recovery technique proves successful, it could breathe new life into the state's oil fields and pump $1 billion or more into the Kansas economy.

Researchers hope the carbon dioxide, which will come from the recently constructed U.S. Energy Partners ethanol plant near Russell, will flush out more oil. If the test is successul and the technique is used on similar fields around the state, it has the potential to produce millions of barrels of additional oil over several years.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway will attend. U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, Kansas Lt. Gov. John Moore and other government officials have been invited to participate in a luncheon program in Russell to recognize the partners in the test project. Following the program, a ceremony to start the carbon dioxide injection process will take place in the Hall-Gurney oil field. Guests also will tour the ethanol plant.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and a group of industry partners, researchers from the KU School of Engineering's Tertiary Oil Recovery Project and KU's Kansas Geological Survey have been studying the possibility of using carbon dioxide to produce additional oil.

The test focuses on a 10-acre patch in the Hall-Gurney field, about 7 miles southeast of Russell. The field has produced more than 150 million barrels of oil since its discovery in 1931. However, output at the field has dropped almost in half during the past decade, with 500,000 barrels of oil produced in 2001.

Researchers will pump liquid carbon dioxide into oil-producing rocks about 3,000 feet underground. There, carbon dioxide will mix with oil that has remained in the hard-to-reach spaces of the rocks and force the oil to nearby wells, where it will be pumped to the surface. Much of the carbon dioxide will remain behind in the deep rock layers.

Although carbon dioxide flooding has been used in other locations, it never has been attempted in Kansas. For the past three years, KU researchers have studied subsurface rock samples and computer models from the 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 Alan Byrnes, Survey petroleum geologist and project co-manager.

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.

Because of the nature of the underground rocks holding the oil, results from the test will not be immediate, and peak production as a result of the carbon dioxide test will be a few years away.

"For carbon dioxide to be economically successful at this location, it will have to help produce an additional 20,000 barrels of oil over the next four years," said Paul Willhite, co-director of KU's Tertiary Oil Recovery Project and project co-manager. "If you can prove that this works in central Kansas, it could work in lots of other areas around the state."

Though the U.S. Energy Partners ethanol plant can supply enough carbon dioxide for much of the Hall-Gurney field, producers would need larger sources of carbon dioxide for more widespread application. They probably 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 Co., a partner in the Russell project. That carbon dioxide could be transported to Kansas via pipeline.

In the meantime, industrial sources could generate sufficient carbon dioxide for tests and small carbon dioxide flooding projects. If the Hall-Gurney project is successful it might open a market for carbon dioxide from the U.S. Energy Partners plant and other ethanol plants in Kansas.

The project also could provide a way to capture carbon dioxide that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere. Because of the possible role of carbon dioxide in global climate change, such underground disposal is considered environmentally preferable.

The Russell location is particularly attractive because the Energy Partners 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 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.

"We're linking energy systems--the power plant, the ethanol plant, the oil patch--in new and exciting ways," said Martin Dubois, Survey petroleum geologist. "This could have a very significant economic impact on the region."

In addition to funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, partners in the project are the Kansas Department of Commerce; Murfin Drilling Co. Inc., Wichita; John O. Farmer Inc., Russell; White Eagle Resources Corp., Louisville, Colo.; Kinder-Morgan CO2 Co., Houston; U.S. Energy Partners LP, Russell; and EPCO Carbon Dioxide Products Inc., Monroe, La.

The Tertiary Oil Recovery Project, sponsored by the State of Kansas and based in the KU School of Engineering, is charged with researching and developing processes specific to Kansas reservoirs that will enhance oil recovery and extend the life of oil fields while also transferring successful technology to the state's oil producers. KU offers the only petroleum engineering degree program in the state.

The Kansas Geological Survey is a research and service division of KU, located on KU's West Campus, with a branch office in Wichita. The Survey studies and prepares reports on the state's geology and natural resources, with research focusing primarily on water, energy, environmental issues, basic geology and geologic hazards.

Contact: Todd Cohen, University Relations, (785) 864-8858; Jill Hummels, School of Engineering, (785) 864-2934; Rex Buchanan, Kansas Geological Survey, (785) 864-2160.

Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach