KU researchers aim to prime oil pumps
Researchers hope that carbon dioxide, which comes
from the recently constructed U.S. Energy Partners ethanol plant near
Russell, will flush more oil out of the Hall-Gurney field, about 7 miles
southeast of Russell. The field has produced more than 150 million barrels
of oil since its discovery in 1931. However, output at the field has dropped
almost in half during the past decade, with 500,000 barrels of oil produced
in 2001. Jill Hummels/School of Engineering
A new oil process could mean billions for Kansas economy
A new chapter in Kansas oil production may have begun Dec. 4 when researchers
from KU and representatives of the state’s oil industry started
injecting carbon dioxide into a Russell County oil field. If the technique
proves successful, it could breathe new life into the state’s oil
fields and pump $1 billion or more into the Kansas economy.
Researchers hope the carbon dioxide, which comes from the recently constructed
U.S. Energy Partners ethanol plant near Russell, will flush out more oil.
If the test is successful and the technique is used on similar fields
around the state, it has the potential to produce millions of barrels
of additional oil over several years.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and a group of industry
partners, researchers from the KU School of Engineering’s Tertiary
Oil Recovery Project and KU’s Kansas Geological Survey have been
studying the possibility of using carbon dioxide to produce additional
The test focuses on a 10-acre patch in the Hall-Gurney field, about 7
miles southeast of Russell. The field has produced more than 150 million
barrels of oil since its discovery in 1931. However, output at the field
has dropped almost in half during the past decade, with 500,000 barrels
of oil produced in 2001.
are pumping liquid carbon dioxide into oil-producing rocks about 3,000
feet underground. There, carbon dioxide will mix with oil that has remained
in the hard-to-reach spaces of the rocks and force the oil to nearby wells,
where it will be pumped to the surface. Much of the carbon dioxide will
remain behind in the deep rock layers.
Although carbon dioxide flooding has been used in other locations, it
never has been attempted in Kansas. For the past three years, KU researchers
have studied subsurface rock samples and computer models from the field
to see if it is suitable for testing the use of carbon dioxide in Kansas.
“We’re ready to move from the computer to the field,”
said Alan Byrnes, Survey petroleum geologist and project co-manager.
Researchers plan to pump about one truckload of carbon dioxide per day
into the subsurface for about six months, then alternate injections of
carbon dioxide and water for the next four years. About half of the carbon
dioxide will come back to the surface with the oil that is produced; the
other half will remain underground.
Because of the nature of the underground rocks holding the oil, results
from the test will not be immediate, and peak production as a result of
the carbon dioxide test will be a few years away.
“For carbon dioxide to be economically successful at this location,
it will have to help produce an additional 20,000 barrels of oil over
the next four years,” said Paul Willhite, co-director of KU’s
Tertiary Oil Recovery Project and project co-manager. “If you can
prove that this works in central Kansas, it could work in lots of other
areas around the state.”
Though the U.S. Energy Partners ethanol plant can supply enough carbon
dioxide for much of the Hall-Gurney field, producers would need larger
sources of carbon dioxide for more widespread application. They probably
would look to “geologic” sources of carbon dioxide, places
where carbon dioxide occurs naturally underground, particularly in New
Mexico and Colorado. Such fields are operated by Kinder Morgan CO2 Co.,
a partner in the Russell project. That carbon dioxide could be transported
to Kansas via pipeline.
In the meantime, industrial sources could generate sufficient carbon dioxide
for tests and small carbon dioxide flooding projects. If the Hall-Gurney
project is successful it might open a market for carbon dioxide from the
U.S. Energy Partners plant and other ethanol plants in Kansas.
The project also could provide a way to capture carbon dioxide that otherwise
would be released into the atmosphere. Because of the possible role of
carbon dioxide in global climate change, such underground disposal is
considered environmentally preferable.
The Russell location is particularly attractive because the Energy Partners
ethanol plant, the Hall-Gurney field and Russell’s recently completed
electrical-generation plant are so close together. Waste heat from the
new power plant is transferred to the ethanol plant, where it is used
to ferment grain, which is purchased locally. That fermentation produces
ethanol, which is used as an additive in fuels. The fermentation also
produces carbon dioxide.
“We’re linking energy systems—the power plant, the ethanol
plant, the oil patch—in new and exciting ways,” said Martin
Dubois, Survey petroleum geologist. “This could have a very significant
economic impact on the region.”