The idea of carbon dioxide being captured and stored thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface forever might seem impossible to some.
Energy leaders are already touting the idea as the next potential leap in clean coal technology, while skeptics worry what the added carbon will do to the nation’s ground water supplies.
Wayne Rowe, project manager for Slumberger Carbon Services, not only knows that it is possible, but announced Thursday at the Water and Energy Conference in Steamboat Springs that his company is weeks away from drilling its first test well in Moffat County.
“What we’re talking about is carbon sequestration,” Rowe said. “Or capturing carbon, rather than emitting it into the atmosphere, pumping it deep into the ground and storing it there, permanently.”
Rowe is in the permit process of begining a three-year, $11-million experiment near Trapper Mine and Craig Station power plant.
He said the area was chosen not simply because there of the coal-fired power plant in the vicinity, but because of favorable geological formations located more than a mile below the Earth’s surface.
“What we were looking for was not huge cavernous areas, but porous rock,” Rowe said.
Namely, Rowe and his colleagues were interested in Dakota Sandstone and the Entrada formation, located at 8,000 and 9,700 feet below the surface, which are prevalent throughout the state.
However, just having good porous rock is not enough to build a successful carbon sequestration program, Rowe said. You need a good “seal,” or a layer of impermeable rock above the carbon should it migrate from its well.
“In this area, that’s the Mancos Shale,” Rowe said.
Rowe said the carbon they are planning to inject into the ground is clean.
“When you strip carbon dioxide from the flu gas, it has a lot of impurities that come along with it,” Rowe said. “What we’re trying to do is strip all of the impurities and inject what is almost pure CO2.”
The stripped carbon goes through such a rigorous cleaning process, it can almost be referred to as food-grade CO2.
“It’s not quite the purity you would need to carbonate water or soda, but it’s almost that pure,” Rowe said. “It’s certainly not nuclear waste or anything on that scale, but I don’t want to mischaracterize it as being totally benign, either.
“If it were to escape and migrate past the Mancos shale and into ground water, it can bring heavy minerals with it in some concentration.”
That is one of the main concerns environmentalists have of carbon sequestration, Rowe said.
“The good news is we have the technology to see if the CO2 is migrating through seismic mapping and studying well bores,” he said.
If the test well Slumberger plans to drill in October is successful, Rowe hopes to someday expand into a six-by-six mile area where the expectation is to store 20 years of carbon emissions from Craig Station underground.
“Wind needs to grow, solar needs to grow and nuclear needs to grow,” Rowe said. “But, we’re also going to need to continue to burn fossil fuels in order to meet the growing energy demands in this country. Emitting that much CO2 into the atmosphere has a lot of people concerned.”
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