June 13, 2011
COLUMBUS — State officials are seeking federal money to test whether crude oil can be drawn from old Ohio oil fields by pumping carbon dioxide from power plants and other sources into the ground — a process that has drawn concern from environmentalists.
The process used in California and Texas for decades increases the pressure underground and mixes with the oil, freeing it from nooks and crannies. It was tested by Ohio in 2008 at a low-yield well southeast of Canton and resulted in a 58 percent increase in production, The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday.
Pumping carbon dioxide into wells at the 175,000-acre East Canton oil field test site in Carroll, Harrison, Stark and Tuscarawas counties could draw as much as 279 million barrels from the field, officials estimate.
“It lightens the oil. It fluffs it up,” Larry Wickstrom, chief of the Ohio Geological Survey, told the newspaper. “It actually makes it so you can push (the oil) through.”
Officials hope the U.S. Department of Energy will approve an $11 million federal grant to help finance testing by researchers at the Battelle Memorial Institute headquartered in Columbus, Wickstrom said.
Other sources for the estimated $16 million needed for testing include industrial partners and possibly the state, Wickstrom told The Associated Press.
Environmentalists are concerned that using carbon dioxide would lead to increased pollution.
“I doubt carbon dioxide’s ability to remain underground,” Nachy Kanfer, Midwest coordinator of the Sierra Club’s coal-to-clean energy campaign, told The Dispatch.
Kanfer said there are fractures and holes in old oil fields, making it difficult to monitor how much carbon dioxide could leak into the air.
Another concern is that carbon dioxide might come eventually from coal-fired power plants and possibly deter utilities from moving to cleaner energy sources, he said.
“The use of coal has been declining for the last several years, “Kanfer told the AP. “Instead of spending money on something that may or may not work, we should spend it on cleaner energy.”
Injecting carbon dioxide to recover oil hasn’t been used in Ohio because there is not a readily available supply of the gas, and much of what has been used in other areas is naturally occurring carbon dioxide, Wickstrom said.
Man-made sources include ethanol plants, natural gas processing plans, cement kilns and methane from landfills. Coal-fired power plants also could be a possible source eventually, but “there is no economical technology ready yet” that would allow plants to separate a pure carbon dioxide stream, Wickstrom said.
The object of the carbon dioxide testing is to determine whether it can be used efficiently in Ohio to “increase oil production,” and not to determine eventual sources of the gas, Wickstrom said.
Ohio’s old oil fields are nearing the end of their primary life, and “we need to look at this before they are completely abandoned,” he said.
Officials won’t know until September whether they will receive federal funding