Carbon capture and storage

Technical Director Insights: Revisiting the Upgraded Road to CCS and CCUS

Finding creative ways to drive down the CAPEX and discounted OPEX and define a realistic pathway and schedule to full-scale commercial operations is discussed.

Edda Freya supply ship
The template for Equinor’s Northern Lights CCS project is shown on the Edda Freya supply ship.
Ørjan Richardsen/Equinor.

Recently, I have been trying to wrap my mind around what has been going on with carbon capture utilization and/or sequestration (CCUS) over the past decade. I last looked at the topic while I was in Singapore thinking about how the industry might commercialize all that low- and variable-BTU gas in southeast Asia.

The fundamental questions remain much the same: How can the production and facilities community help to drive down costs and build a better road to CCUS application?

My periodic involvement feels a bit like my trips from Miri in Malaysia to Kuala Belait in Brunei.

  • The first time I went, it was at least a 6-hour adventure for which a four-wheel drive vehicle with a winch was highly recommended, regardless of whether one used the beach or the badly rutted sand road.
  • The next time, the road was regularly graded so you could use a regular car and it took less than 4 hours, depending on the line-up at the two ferries.
  • Now you can drive it in less than an hour on a modern road with a bridge crossing the Belait River. There is even a bus that can get you there in less than 90 minutes.

With CCUS and CCS (carbon capture and storage), government-funded studies and projects have demonstrated feasibility. Therefore, it is now time for us to help secure the funding for front-end engineering design (FEED) studies and head toward a final investment decision. However, that will require a bit of help from our friends in the SPE CCUS Technical Section and the SPE Business Management and Leadership Community.

As ever, our job is to help find creative ways to drive down the CAPEX and discounted OPEX and define a realistic pathway and schedule to full-scale commercial operations.

The carbon capture and purification are generally the costliest pieces of the puzzle and depend heavily on the nature, quality, and pressure of the source gas.

At one end of the spectrum, it seems likely that the power and cement industries will handle the megaprojects to achieve economies of scale in the capture and purification processes.

The recent SPE Canada CCS Workshop demonstrated the maturity of both the proven and emerging technologies, as well as a plethora of available resources

For these megaprojects, the oil and gas industry’s role is likely to be in innovating and executing what we already know about transporting, injecting, and monitoring CO2.

The first large-scale commercial enhanced oil recovery (EOR) project was in the SACROC Unit in the Permian Basin of Texas in 1972. There are now more than 130 CO2 EOR projects in the US, as well as CCS and CCUS projects in nine other countries on five continents. These projects are supported with some 30 CO2 trunklines in 10 countries, including one carrying CO2 from the US into Canada for the Weyburn EOR Project in Saskatchewan.

At the other extreme, small-scale plants have been making food- and industrial-grade CO2 and dry ice for more than a century!

It is well known that the best industrial sources of CO2 are the ammonia, petrochemical, and fertilizer plants from which CO2 is a low-value byproduct. Visiting the “Research Portal” on the top right of the spe.org website, I searched for “petrochemical plants as a source of CO2 for EOR.” I got 75 hits, including a nice summary in JPT, Carbon Dioxide: From Industry to Oil Fields.”

Stephen Rassenfoss quotes Michael Moore (managing partner at East-West Strategic Advisors and program director at US Energy Association) as saying, “In all cases, the next path for CO2 growth is captured CO2,” which is where we started this discussion.

Emerging capture technologies were discussed in two other relatively recent JPT articles: Technology Could Cut CO2 Cost Sharply for Enhanced Oil Recovery” and “Why Oxy’s Net-Zero Goal Carves an Entirely New Path.”

My current interest is in identifying relatively small-scale CO2 capture units that could be used at a gas or steam generation plant in support of an EOR pilot. Therefore, I was excited to learn at the SPE Canada CCUS Workshop that InnoTech is working on an enhanced amine separation system that is designed to significantly reduce the capital and operating costs. Presumably, this will be tested at the new Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre.

My friend and colleague on the Production and Facilities Advisory Committee, Jim Raney, worked as project manager on the Anadarko (now Occidental) Salt Creek CO2 EOR Project. He pointed me and the team working on revisions to the British Energy Institute’s Guidelines on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS2002, 3 and 4) to an excellent summary document on CO2 pipelines published by the Global CCS Institute and the IEA Environmental Project (IEAGHG).

Most CO2 trunklines have multiple on- and off-ramps with spokes of varying capacity radiating out from the delivery hubs. For example, the Alberta Carbon Trunkline, operated by Wolf Midstream, is currently operating at about 15% of its design capacity collecting CO2 from two facilities in the industrial heartland of Alberta and delivering it to a point in central Alberta where numerous potential EOR projects had been identified by the Alberta Geological Survey around the turn of the century (Bachu and Shaw, JCPT, September 2003, etc.).

While it is tempting to assume that it should be relatively easy to repurpose gas infrastructure for sequestration, there are quite a few potential challenges, including potential integrity issues; operating conditions within relative narrow pressure and temperature constraints to avoid hydrate conditions both at surface and at the sandface; and having to cross the phase envelope from a gas to a super-critical dense-phase fluid.

These issues were highlighted in an interesting talk at the recent SPE Offshore CCUS Workshop discussing the Porthos offshore CCS project in the Netherlands, near Rotterdam.

As might be expected, the Northern Lights Longship CCS Project in Norway stole that show.

A report on the key lessons learned during the Longship Development is now available:

So, what are the opportunities in the CCUS/CCS business for we Production and Facilities types?

Lots, especially for those who have worked on

  • Acid gas sweetening plants and disposal wells or CO2 EOR
  • Materials selection and corrosion management.
  • Brittle fracture risk assessment and the design of crack arrestors.
  • SCADA-based leak detection systems and/or pipeline inspection.
  • Flow assurance, including the assessment of hydrates and inorganic scales.
  • Complex multifunctional FEED studies and project engineering.

As with many new ventures, the opportunity assessment phase is particularly challenging. Getting through PMP Stage Gates 1 and 2 requires P, F, and C support to develop reasonable and appropriately risked costs estimates and schedules ranges for commercial analysis.

The learning curve can be flattened by leveraging the learnings of those who are active in this space, and by visiting the websites of their professional organizations and those universities that have been chasing this opportunity for the past few decades.

Hopefully, this should be more than enough to get you fired up and, if you have any spare time on your hands, help disseminate what you learn by updating the CO2 sequestration chapter in PetroWiki.