Regina – At times, it has looked like Saskatchewan’s leading stance in the geologic storage of carbon dioxide, as well as its implementation in enhanced oil recovery (EOR), wasn’t gaining much traction worldwide. But that may be changing.

In late February-early March, Sinopec, one of China’s national oil companies, sent a large delegation to Saskatchewan for two weeks to learn about what operators and researchers in the province are doing.

Erik Nickel and Norm Sacuta of the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC) in Regina spoke to Pipeline News on Feb. 8.

Sacuta, who handles communications with the PTRC, noted that recent changes in American law, specifically one called 45Q, are having significant implications south of the border. Those changes, brought in under President Donald Trump’s major tax reform, involve credits of $30 per tonne for carbon dioxide used in enhanced oil recovery.

As such, there’s a new term being used these days. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is now being referred to in some circles as carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). Those tax changes may have profound impact on the viability of using carbon dioxide in EOR schemes, and could revive projects that have stalled.

So what’s the future of CO2-EOR?

“The future is very much up to government and government policy,” said Erik Nickel, PTRC’s director of operations. He’s been working with CO2 since 1999, when he worked on characterizing the Weyburn Unit. He did his masters degree on it.

“If CCUS is deemed an effective mitigation strategy for greenhouse gases, the sky’s the limit. Personally, from a research standpoint, I think we’ve done a lot of work to prove that it is a viable mitigation technique. What we are looking for is uptake from governments to put in place things like 45Q or other incentives to utilize CO2.”

If something like 45Q was implemented in Canada, Nickel thinks we could see the implantation of CCS on the Shand Power Station and other coal-fired power plants, and the building of a CO2 trunk line throughout southeast Saskatchewan, with a ramp-up of CO2 injection in a lot of the Mississippian oilfields in the region.

“As it stands, Weyburn has proven it is an effective technique, not only for EOR, but for mitigation,” he said.

“What the PTRC can do is help them de-risk those assets, with planning and pilot studies. It’s not something that would happen overnight, but when we look back 20 years from now, it could be huge.”

At the 2018 Williston Basin Conference, North Dakota’s governor boldly predicted that his state would reach 2 million barrels per day of oil production, up from the 1.2 million bbls/d at the time (a year later, the state has now reached 1.4 million bbls/d). He said they would reach 2 million bbls/d that by utilizing every CO2 source possible from lignite coal production in the state, and North Dakota could even become a CO2 importer.

Nickel said, “Once they start having to write the cheques to put the capture on these plants, that’s where the rubber meets the road. Saskatchewan is one of the few jurisdictions that had the guts to actually do it. To me, that’s incredibly impressive that we were able to complete this.”

— Pipeline News

Image: Pumpjacks at the Weyburn CO2 enhanced oil recovery and carbon sequestration project. Photo by Joey Podlubny/JWN