Big oilfields prove able to soak up carbon gas
Abu Dhabi's state oil company has successfully tested a new technique that uses carbon dioxide to boost output from its oilfields, a senior executive said yesterday.
The technology has the potential to transform the oil industry in Abu Dhabi while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Using the system, the emirate would become the world leader in the use of carbon dioxide in oil reservoirs, said Abdul Munim al Kindy, the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Oil Operations (ADCO).
Full-scale injection of carbon dioxide into just one of the emirate's large oil reservoirs would require a volume of gas six times greater than the total used in the industry across North America, he noted.
"What we have done is demonstrate the viability of enhanced oil recovery [with carbon dioxide] and we have similar views coming from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait," Mr al Kindy said.
But Abu Dhabi Government policy and a regulatory framework that would help make the technology competitive with other techniques to enhance oil output is still in its "early days", Mr al Kindy added.
ADCO hopes to deploy a large-scale carbon injection system within six years but only if it can secure an economic supply source from Masdar, the Government's clean energy company.
Regulation is needed "to define a better or more representative price for the exchange of [carbon dioxide]", Mr al Kindy said.
When injected into an oil reservoir, carbon dioxide forces more hydrocarbons to the surface. The technique has been used for some time in sandstone reservoirs in the US and Canada.
A pilot test at the Rumaitha field had shown the system worked in the Gulf's carbonate rock reservoirs. Its use was now only "limited by the availability" of cost-effective carbon dioxide, Mr al Kindy said on the sidelines of the ADIPEC oil and gas conference in the capital.
Full-scale use of carbon dioxide at Rumaitha would substitute 30 million cubic feet of natural gas that is currently injected into the field each day, he said. ADCO hopes to have the injection scheme started by 2014 and running at full speed by 2016 at the latest, he said.
ADCO is in discussions to buy the necessary gas from Masdar, which in turn will capture it from a steel plant and three power stations.
The Government says the scheme would offer three major advantages: an increase in oil output; diversion of greenhouse gas emissions underground; and substitution of carbon dioxide for natural gas currently used.
Abu Dhabi is facing a looming shortage of natural gas for its power stations.
But the advance of the project has been challenged in part by the high costs faced by Masdar in separating the carbon dioxide from other gases power stations emit. Without a government subsidy or other forms of outside support, Masdar's only potential revenue source on the project is the sale of the gas to ADCO.
A government carbon policy is needed to ensure that ADCO, the buyer of the carbon dioxide, is not the only one having to pay the high costs of capturing the gas, Mr al Kindy said.
Without regulation, "you end up with one party bearing most of the cost", he said. The first and easiest source of carbon dioxide will come from an expansion of the Emirates Steel Industries's plant in Musaffah.
Later stages of Masdar's carbon capture plan call for the installation of special filters that divert an additional 5.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from three power plants. Initial engineering studies have shown the technology proposed for two of the plants is not well developed and would prove extremely expensive, said Satish Kumar, a carbon capture engineer at Masdar Carbon.
"The technology is proven technically but it needs substantial technical and operational expenditure, which makes these projects economically unviable," he said.
Updated: November 2, 2010 04:00 AM