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UW School of Energy Resources Begins Phase 3 of CarbonSAFE Project

November 4, 2020

The School of Energy Resource’s (SER) Center for Economic Geology Research (CEGR) at the University of Wyoming officially launched Phase 3 of the CarbonSAFE project last month.

Funding for Phase 3 of the project was approved in April, when SER and its partners received a $15.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory.

In addition to the $15.4 million in federal funding, project partner Basin Electric Power Cooperative is contributing $1.5 million, with UW’s cost-sharing contribution at $2.4 million.

The Wyoming CarbonSAFE Project (Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise) is among 13 original carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) project sites in the U.S. Funded by the DOE, the project’s ultimate goal is to ensure carbon storage complexes will be ready for integrated CCUS system deployment.

With the advancement of each stage and varying success, fewer sites continued to the subsequent stages. Four of the original 13 projects have advanced to Phase 3, including sites in North Dakota, Alabama and Illinois. One new project, located in New Mexico, has joined the program.

Phase 1 of the CarbonSAFE project was an 18-month initiative that began in 2016 to assess the pre-feasibility of CCUS technology. The Basin Electric Dry Fork Station, in Campbell County, was selected as the project site. Not only is the site ideally located in the Powder River Basin, which accounts for 40 percent of U.S. coal production, but also the unique subsurface geological features in Wyoming allow for optimal potential storage zones, says Scott Quillinan, director of UW’s CEGR.

Geological formations investigated included the Muddy, Lakota, Fall River (Dakota Group), Lower Sundance and Minnelusa, which are overlain by thousands of feet of impermeable rock that would ensure the permanent containment of carbon dioxide (CO2) fluids in the storage sites.

Phase 2 of the project, in September 2018, began to assess the storage complex feasibility, with major activities including drilling a test well at the site and conducting a 3D geophysical survey. The test well was completed at a total depth of 9,873 feet, with 625 feet of core samples from nine different geological formations collected for analysis.

Following the completion of drilling, the team gathered downhole data by running sensors into the hole where team members gathered the information about the rock layers, fluids in the layers and pressure within the formations of interest.

Phase 3, last month, was pivotal for wrapping up data collection from Phase 2. Phase 3 project objectives are to finalize site characterization; complete Class 6 permitting to construct; integrate Membrane Technology and Research Inc.’s CO2 capture assessment; and conduct National Environmental Policy Act analyses to advance toward the eventual commercialization of a large-scale -- storage of 50 million metric tons of CO2 within a 30-year period -- CCUS project at Dry Fork Station.

If the projected success of Phase 3 comes to fruition, then the venture will advance to Phase 4 of the initiative for permitting and the construction of an actual storage complex, Quillinan says.

“Phase 3 will be the phase that tees up commercial operation at the study site, but also for other areas in Wyoming,” Quillinan says. “By the completion of Phase 3, the project team will have finalized all site characterization and Class 6 permitting activities, thereby leaving the project poised to begin final commercialization actions with the consent of project partners. In so doing, the project will have commercially advanced CCUS technologies both in terms of reservoir characterization in the CO2 storage context, and in obtaining the first Class 6 permit to construct in Wyoming so that others may follow suit.”

The Environmental Protection Agency recently approved the application allowing Wyoming to have permitting authority for Class 6 wells.

By achieving primacy, Wyoming will be a haven for operators that want to take advantage of the 45Q tax credit that was extended and expanded through a bipartisan effort co-sponsored by Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, the Furthering Carbon Capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground Storage and Reduced Emissions (FUTURE) Act.

The tax credit incentivizes utilities and other industrial sources to build out CCUS projects, including Class 6 wells.

“Not only is Wyoming one of the test sites that is ahead of the curve in terms of the actual feasibility of CCUS technology, but we believe the ability to work directly under the guidance and regulatory oversight of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality makes the possibility of developing a commercial CCUS project more feasible in the state of Wyoming,” Quillinan adds.

Other major participants and partners in the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project are Basin Electric Power Cooperative; Energy and Environmental Research Center; Advanced Resources International Inc.; Carbon GeoCycle Inc.; Membrane Technology and Research Inc.; Denbury Resources Inc.; UW Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute; UW College of Business; UW College of Law; Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Schlumberger.

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