Captured Carbon from Coal Plants to Help Pump Oil 500 Miles Away?


Photo via LelyVeld

The two dirtiest energy industries in the US have just teamed up to help each other get a little cleaner: when oil companies pump carbon dioxide into wells in a process called 'enhanced oil recovery', they suck out up to 60% more recoverable oil. Meanwhile, coal plants in the Midwest are getting outfitted with carbon capture technology, which removes between 50-90% of the carbon from their emissions and collects it for storage. So, the coal companies have an overload of CO2 on their hands, and oil companies desperately need more of it for their operations. There's just one thing missing . . .And that's the 500-mile pipeline that would pump CO2 from the Midwest to the oil rigs on the Gulf Coast, of course. It doesn't exist yet, but a feasibility study is being conducted on the prospect as we speak, and both big coal and big oil are on board.

Four coal plants in Illinois, Kentucky, and Indiana, have signed conditional agreements to supply their gas to the pipeline, after the carbon capture systems have been completed. A Texas-based oil company, Denbury Resources, would build the massive pipeline in order to ship the CO2 to its production facilities in Mississippi.


Photo via UMN

The arrangement offers 'clean coal' proponents somewhere to put all the captured carbon, since there's no safe, agreed upon way to store it yet, and a way to make it profitable: (via Greenwire)

instead of paying to sequester the carbon in deep underground saline formations -- a process that is both unproven at commercial scale and at least several years down the road -- early CCS movers would be first in line to sell CO2 to oil producers.
But of course, there's only so many oil production fields that can use the carbon, and a whole hell of a lot of coal-fired power plants that are producing it in droves--not to mention that the oil's not going to last too much longer either--so this is a short-term opportunity at best.

And it's hard not to be a little discouraged at the big picture here--we're essentially shipping CO2 spared from the air by clean coal technology, only to have it help oil companies get more oil than usual, which will soon be burned to put that CO2 right back in the air.

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