UW President: Carbon Storage Offers Opportunity for Wyoming

February 16, 2010

By Tom Buchanan
President, University of Wyoming

During its current session, the Wyoming State Legislature will consider an allocation of $45 million in federal Abandoned Mine Land (AML) funds to the University of Wyoming. Unquestionably, it's a lot of money. It also represents an extraordinary opportunity for Wyoming, its economy, and its university.

The funds will support a carbon sequestration initiative called Wyoming Carbon Underground Storage Project, or WY-CUSP. The purpose is to demonstrate the injection of carbon dioxide into underground rock formations. Injection will be followed by measuring, monitoring and verification to ensure that the carbon dioxide remains captured and behaves as expected.

You may have read about other, similar projects, including some federal demonstration projects. WY-CUSP is different.

We see an opportunity to help safeguard the state's economy at a time when it's growing more and more apparent that federal regulation, federal legislation, other states' emerging energy policies, and international markets will impose limits on carbon dioxide emissions. These government policies and global economics have the potential to seriously impair the viability of Wyoming's coal, natural gas, and oil - commodities that anchor our state revenues, not to mention the economic health of many of our communities.

To be sure, as WY-CUSP unfolds, scientists and students alike will help advance an emerging area of study, consistent with UW's core mission. But these UW benefits are subordinate to two others. One is the insurance policy this research can provide the state's economy. The other is our nation's capacity to lead the world through the coming decades, when efforts to limit carbon dioxide emissions will almost certainly collide with increasing demand for carbon-based energy. Wyoming can - and should - be at the forefront of this effort.

Thanks to the work of faculty members working through the UW Office of Research and Economic Development and the School of Energy Resources, WY-CUSP is already under way, with measurable milestones and a vision, ultimately, for commercial scale operations. UW is now determining the suitability of sites for carbon storage; we can assess the risks of proceeding to the next stage; and we will leverage non-state funds to develop valuable contributions to both industry and science. The UW Energy Resources Council, a state-appointed panel of industry representatives and legislators, is poised to provide both oversight and an ongoing reality check.

Once we prove that carbon dioxide storage is feasible, we have several options. Our site can continue as a research project, as a commercial operation, or some combination of both. We'll be able to use what we learn there at other storage sites in Wyoming and elsewhere. In any event, our primary goal is to establish a carbon dioxide storage project of national and international significance - one that will have a direct impact on Wyoming's energy economy.

UW is uniquely situated to take on a project of this scale and to develop it successfully. We have a long-standing foundation in energy research that is even stronger now, thanks to the School of Energy Resources. Our faculty experts possess a deep understanding of the geology and engineering principles of carbon sequestration. And, through its strategic plans, the institution is committed to securing a long-term future for our state's economy.

UW and the state of Wyoming have been preparing for this project for quite some time. The Wyoming State Legislature leads the nation in sorting through the complicated legal framework related to storing carbon. State agencies have been working to develop draft rules governing sequestration and to identify geologic structures suitable for carbon storage. The legislature has funded initial research at UW and at the state Geological Survey. Wyoming's congressional delegation has worked to secure U.S. Department of Energy funds for research and is involved in developing a federal liability framework that suits our efforts as well as those of the state.

We also have been building partnerships on other projects, like the High Plains Gasification-Advanced Technology Center and the NCAR Wyoming Supercomputing Center, both of which will promote advances in the science of carbon dioxide capture and sequestration.

We're leveraging both knowledge and funding to advance those enterprises, and we're doing the same with WY-CUSP.

Times are changing, and we're changing, too. We look forward to finding solutions for our energy challenges that best position Wyoming for the future.

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