Understanding the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative

Understanding the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative

This article appears in the Winter 2014 issue of Cornerstone, the official journal of the World Coal Industry

By Patrick Falwell

Solutions Fellow, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Brad Crabtree

Vice President, Fossil Energy, Great Plains Institute

Since 2011, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and the Great Plains Institute (GPI) have convened the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative (NEORI). Bringing together leaders from industry, the environmental community, labor, and state governments, NEORI has worked to advance carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) as a key component of U.S. energy security, economic, and environmental strategy. Currently, most CO2-EOR is done with natural underground reservoirs of CO2, yet the industry’s future growth depends on taking advantage of the large amounts of CO2 that result from electricity generation and industrial processes. NEORI therefore is working to turn a waste product into a commodity and to encourage policies that will help bring an affordable supply of man-made CO2 to the market.

As such, NEORI has offered consensus recommendations for federal- and state-level policy action. In May, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) introduced legislation in the U.S. Congress adopting NEORI’s centerpiece recommendation to reform and expand an existing federal tax incentive for the capture of man-made CO2 and its geologic storage through CO2-EOR.

Going forward, NEORI will work to educate policymakers across the political spectrum and the broader public about the opportunity for CO2-EOR to serve as a national solution to energy and environmental challenges.


Although commonly considered a “niche” extractive tech­nology, CO2-EOR is a decades-old practice. Since the 1970s, CO2-EOR projects have utilized CO2 to produce additional oil from otherwise tapped-out fields. CO2 readily mixes with oil not recovered by earlier production techniques, swelling the stranded oil and bringing it to the surface. The CO2 is then sep­arated from the oil and re-injected in a closed-loop process. Each time CO2 is cycled through an oil reservoir, the majority of it remains trapped in the underground formation, where, over time, all utilized CO2 will be stored permanently.

Today, CO2-EOR in the U.S. accounts for over 300,000 barrels of oil production per day, or nearly 5% of total annual domestic production.[i] More than 4000 miles of CO2 pipelines are in place and, as of 2014, approximately 68 million tonnes of CO2 are being injected underground annually for CO2-EOR. Nearly 75% of this CO2 is from naturally occurring deposits, but over time the supply of CO2 from man-made sources is expected to grow significantly. Currently, 11 U.S. states have CO2-EOR projects. Most are in the Permian Basin of Texas, with new activity emerg­ing on the Gulf Coast and in the Mountain West. Untapped opportunities exist in California, Alaska, and a number of states in the industrial Midwest. Estimates suggest that CO2-EOR could ultimately access 21.4–63.3 billion barrels of economically recoverable reserves.[ii] Recovering this oil would require 8.9–16.2 billion tonnes of CO2 that would predominantly come from man-made sources. Technically recoverable reserves offer potential to produce additional oil and utilize more man-made CO2 that is currently otherwise emitted into the atmosphere.

The main barrier to taking advantage of CO2-EOR’s potential has been an insufficient supply of affordable CO2. For an oilfield operator looking to implement CO2-EOR on a depleted oilfield, there is a cost gap between what they could afford to pay for CO2 under normal market conditions and the cost to capture and transport CO2 from power plants and industrial sources. For some industrial sources, such as natural gas processing or fertilizer and ethanol production, the cost gap is small (potentially $10–20/tonne CO2). For other man-made sources of CO2, including power generation and a variety of industrial processes, capture costs are greater, and the cost gap becomes much larger (potentially $30–50/tonne CO2). Recognizing the cost gap as a significant barrier, NEORI has worked to determine the role that public policy can play in narrowing it.


For the last three years, NEORI has brought together a broad and diverse group of constituencies that share a common interest in promoting CO2-EOR. Some NEORI participants support CO2-EOR as a way to provide a low-carbon future for coal by managing and avoiding its carbon emissions. Others are interested in the jobs and economic growth that deploying new CO2 capture projects, pipelines, and EOR operations will bring. Still other participants want to advance innovative technologies that can capture and permanently store CO2 underground. Despite differences of opinions among participants on other issues, all agree that CO2-EOR is a positive endeavor and that public policy can play an important role in realizing CO2-EOR’s many benefits. As such, NEORI’s participants have crafted a set of consensus recommendations for federal and state policy incentives to enable the widespread deployment of carbon capture technologies to provide CO2 for use in CO2-EOR, while addressing concerns about how incentives have been allocated in the past.

To support its consensus recommendations, NEORI also prepared a quantitative analysis to estimate the extent to which a federal initiative could spur new CO2-EOR projects and improve the federal budget at the same time. An incentive awarded for capturing CO2 from man-made sources for use in CO2-EOR has the potential to be self-financing, given that it could lead to new oil production that is taxed at the federal level. CO2-EOR in the U.S. generates federal revenue from three sources:

1.     Corporate income taxes collected on the additional oil pro­duction

2.     Income taxes on private royalties collected from CO2-EOR producers

3.     Royalties from CO2-EOR production on federal land

Together these sources equate to nearly 20% of the sales value of an additional barrel of oil and generate the source of public revenues that will in turn cover the cost of newly allocated incentives.

NEORI’s most recent analysis of the budget implications of a tax incentive reflects the legislation introduced by Senator Rockefeller. This analysis shows that an improved federal incentive could lead to the production of over eight billion barrels of oil and the underground storage of more than four billion tonnes of CO2 over 40 years and generate federal revenues that exceed the value of tax incentives awarded within the U.S. Congress’ standard 10-year budget window.


NEORI recommends a reform and an expansion of an existing federal tax incentive, the Section 45Q Tax Credit for Carbon Sequestration. First authorized in 2009, the 45Q tax credit provides a $10 tax credit for each tonne of CO2 captured from a man-made source and permanently stored underground through enhanced oil recovery (a $20 tax credit is available for CO2 stored in saline formations). While enacted with the best of intentions, the existing 45Q program has been unable to encourage widespread adoption of carbon capture technologies for two main reasons. First, 45Q is only authorized to provide tax credits for 75 million tonnes of CO2, a relatively small amount considering how much CO2 could possibly be utilized through CO2-EOR. As of June 2014, tax credits for approximately 27 million tonnes of CO2 had already been claimed, and it is foreseeable that the remaining pool of credits will be exhausted in the near future. Second, 45Q has been unable to provide needed certainty to carbon capture project developers that they will be able to claim the incentive, due to rigid definitions in the tax code and the lack of a credit reservation process. Carbon capture project developers have not been able to present the guarantee of credit availability when seeking private-sector finance.

Under NEORI’s proposal, a larger pool of 45Q credits would be established, while suggested reforms would increase certainty and private-sector investment, improve transparency, and help the program pay for itself fiscally within 10 years.

Allocating New 45Q Credits via Competitive Bidding and Tranches

To minimize the cost of new 45Q tax credits to the federal gov­ernment, NEORI recommends that carbon capture projects of similar cost bid against one another for allocations of tax credits. Under annual competitive bidding processes, carbon capture projects would bid for a certain tax credit amount that would cover the difference between their cost to capture and transport CO2 and the revenue they would receive from selling CO2 for use in CO2-EOR. The project submitting the lowest bid would receive an allocation of tax credits, and allocations would be made to capture projects up to specified annual limits.

Given the wide difference in capture costs for potential man-made sources of CO2, three separate pools of credits, or tranches, would be established. The creation of separate lower-cost industrialA and higher-cost industrialB tranches for power plants would ensure that an incentive is available for the diversity of potential man-made sources of CO2.

Tax Credit Certification

A certification process would provide essential up-front cer­tainty to carbon capture project developers and enable them to reserve their allocation of 45Q tax credits to be claimed in the future. Upon receiving an allocation of 45Q tax credits through competitive bidding, a project would have to apply for and meet the criteria of certification within 90 days. For example, a carbon capture project would need a contract in place to sell its CO2 for use in CO2-EOR to be certified. To maintain certification, a carbon capture project would have to complete construction in three years, if it is a retrofit, and five years, if it is a new facility.

Revenue Positive Determination and Program Review

Following the seventh annual round of competitive bidding, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury would assess whether newly allocated 45Q tax credits have been revenue-positive to the federal government. If the new 45Q tax credits are not proving to be revenue-positive, the Secretary will make recommen­dations to Congress to improve the program. Otherwise, competitive bidding will continue until the next review.

The Secretary of the Treasury also would be advised by a panel of independent experts.

Annual Tax Credit Adjustment Based on Changes in the Price of Oil

Each year, the value of claimed 45Q tax credits would be adjusted up or down to reflect changes in the price of oil. In most instances, the price that CO2-EOR operators would pay CO2 providers for their CO2 is linked explicitly to the prevailing price of oil. When the price of oil rises and CO2-EOR operators are willing to pay more for CO2, the value of 45Q tax credits would be adjusted downward to ensure the federal government does not pay more than needed. Conversely, when oil prices fall, the value of 45Q tax credits would be adjusted upward, ensuring that carbon capture projects receive sufficient revenue.

Tax Credit Assignability

Potential carbon capture project developers include electric power cooperatives, municipalities, and startup companies. Not all of these entities have sufficient tax liability to allow them to realize the economic benefit of a tax credit. As such, NEORI recommends that carbon capture projects have the ability to assign 45Q tax credits to other parties within the CO2-EOR supply chain. This provision could facilitate tax equity partnerships, but only among entities directly associated with the project and managing the CO2.


In a time of considerable disagreement on U.S. energy and cli­mate policy at the federal level, NEORI members believe that CO2-EOR offers broad benefits and the rare opportunity to unite policymakers and stakeholders in common purpose. The NEORI coalition therefore remains committed to educating members of both political parties and the broader public as to how CO2-EOR can generate net federal revenue from domestic oil production, meet domestic energy needs, safely store man-made CO2 underground, and help advance and lower the costs of carbon capture technology.


A. Lower-cost industrial sources of CO2 include natural gas pro­cessing, ethanol production, ammonia production, and existing projects involving the gasification of coal, petroleum residuals, biomass, or waste streams.

B. Higher-cost industrial sources of CO2 include cement production, iron and steel production, hydrogen production, and new-build projects involving the gasification of coal, petroleum residuals, biomass, or waste streams.


[i] Kuuskraa, V., & Wallace, M. (2014, 7 April). CO2-EOR set for growth as new CO2 supplies emerge. Oil & Gas Journal, www.ogj.com/articles/print/volume-112/issue-4/special-report-eor-heavy-o...

[ii] Wallace, M., Kuuskraa, V., & DiPietro, P. (2013). An in-depth look at “next generation” CO2-EOR technology. National Energy Technology Laboratory, www.netl.doe.gov/File%20Library/Research/Energy%20Analysis/Publications/...