Putting the “U” in CCUS

I spent the last few days at the eleventh annual Carbon Capture Utilization & Sequestration Conference (CCUS) in Pittsburgh.

For its first 10 years, it was the CCS conference, focused primarily on advancing efforts to capture and permanently sequester carbon emissions underground. This nascent technology is absolutely critical if we are going to continue burning fossil fuels and have any hope of averting dangerous climate change.

This year the conference organizers added “Utilization” to the title. This addition reflects a new reality: in the absence of strong climate policy, the key driver of CCS innovation is the utilization of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR). This is a little-known technique in which CO2 (usually drawn from naturally occurring underground reservoirs) is injected into declining oil fields to boost their output. It now accounts for about 6 percent of domestic U.S. oil production.

Those of us focused on climate change think about CO2 as the major greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. But to those in the enhanced oil recovery industry, CO2 is an essential commodity they need for their business. And, somewhat ironically, from their vantage point, CO2 is in short supply.

Throughout the conference, speakers and discussion sessions focused on the scientific, technical, business and policy issues surrounding CO2-EOR. A few highlights were:

  • Chuck McConnell, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, talked about DOE’s shift in emphasis from CCS to CCUS. He announced a new report and tool, the North American Carbon Storage Atlas (NACSA) of the location of all the CO2 sources and geologic storage sites (including oil and gas reservoirs), illustrating the potential network for CO2 utilization and sequestration in North America.
  • C2ES President Eileen Claussen gave a keynote address about the importance of CO2-EOR for our climate and energy future. It can more than double our proved domestic oil reserves and sequester billions of tons of CO2.
  • I moderated a plenary panel of participants in the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative (NEORI), a diverse coalition advocating for federal and state incentives to use captured CO2 captured from power plants and industry for EOR. NEORI is co-convened by C2ES and the Great Plains Institute and includes representatives from industry, labor, environmental groups and academia.
  • Jeff Baudier, President and CEO of Petra Nova LLC, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, talked about their new carbon capture project with a new CO2-EOR business model – they own both the power plant that will capture the CO2 and the oil field that can use it.
  • Jon McKinney, Commissioner of West Virginia’s Public Service Commission and the Chair of the Clean Coal and Carbon Sequestration Subcommittee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, talked about what it will take for CCUS to gain public utility commission approvals.

The Conference’s subtitle was apt: “Building a Business Case for Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration…Good for the Economy & the Environment.”

This blog post is cross-posted on NEORI’s website.