Digging for Solutions

KU researchers study feasibility of storing carbon dioxide underground in Kansas
KU researchers are developing detailed maps of subsurface structures in Kansas to determine whether they can store carbon dioxide and use it to release trapped oil reserves.

How do you keep industrial byproduct carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and perhaps reach previously inaccessible oil reserves at the same time?

The answer could lie beneath the plains of Kansas, where University of Kansas researchers are drilling deep into ancient rock and attempting to store CO2, a greenhouse gas that’s been linked to climate change. In addition, KU researchers are determining whether targeted CO2 injections can release trapped oil unreachable by traditional methods. The technique has been used extensively in west Texas oil fields and in a Russell County demonstration project.

The researchers are focusing their CO2 sequestration efforts on the Wellington oil field in Sumner County while studying subsurface structures in Ellis County north of Hays to determine storage prospects there. The projects are funded largely by the Department of Energy.

“Imagine the dual benefits of storing carbon dioxide underground and using it to reach previously inaccessible oil reserves,” said Lynn Watney, a Kansas Geological Survey geologist at KU. “This would simultaneously address a variety of environmental and energy issues and could lead to significant economic benefits for rural Kansas.”

Kansas Geological Survey projects

  • The Kansas Geological Survey at KU received an $11.5 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy in November 2011 to test the safety and efficacy of storing CO2 captured from an industrial source deep underground in sumner Count.
  • CO2 is a natural and essential component of the atmosphere, but it is also a greenhouse gas — a byproduct of fossil fuels emissions from vehicles and stationary sources such as electric, cement, ethanol, and fertilizer plants — that has been linked to climate change.
  • This is the first time CO2 emitted during industrial activities will be captured and injected underground in Kansas — into a deep saline aquifer — to test long-term storage. Sequestration of CO2 in saline aquifers is being tested throughout the United States, with larger tests in Texas and Illinois.
  • The KGS has received a combined $23 million in federal funding for Co2 projects statewide since 2009.
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