Energy transition

Tracking the Energy Transition: CCUS Moves Along but Hits a Snag, Satellites Sharpen Focus on Methane, and Geothermal Gets a Boost

While CCS and CCUS become more ensconced in oil and gas energy-transition strategy, one major project has fallen short of targets. Infrared sensor technology could fill a crucial gap in halting methane leaks. And a geothermal startup gets a big vote of confidence from industry and celebrities.

Credit: Shell.

Are you trying to stay up to date about developments aimed at energy transition efforts in our industry? This roundup of news recaps some recent announcements.

Energy Transition To Star at OTC
Energy transition will take center stage as a key topic in technical, panel, executive, and keynote sessions at the hybrid Offshore Technology Conference, 16–19 August, in Houston. At least 15 sessions, including six on Monday, 16 August, will explore different aspects of the energy transition. Hydrogen and offshore wind are expected to dominate the conversation.

CCS, CCUS Capture Momentum
After a decade of slow progress, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and its cousin, CCUS—the “U” stands for “utilization,” indicating the captured carbon is used for purposes beyond permanently storing it underground—are gaining momentum as an all-of-the-above energy-transition strategy for the oil and gas industry. Wood Mackenzie in a recent report pointed to giant European projects such as Northern Lights, Net Zero Teesside, and Port of Rotterdam’s Porthos as playing an important role in its proposed basinwide approach that would integrate carbon storage sites, industrial clusters, and oil and gas infrastructure to move toward cross-sector emissions reduction. Baker Hughes is among upstream companies diversifying into CCUS. Shortly after announcing a plan to scope projects in Italy, the company signed a deal with Borg CO2 to build a CCUS hub in Norway.

Venture Global says that its planned deployment of CCS at its Calcasieu Pass liquefaction facility would be the first of its kind for an existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in the United States. Venture Global plans to compress 500,000 tons of carbon per year at its Calcasieu Pass and Plaquemines sites then transport it and inject it deep into subsurface saline aquifers where it will be stored permanently. Additionally, the company anticipates using similar infrastructure to capture and sequester 500,000 tons of carbon per year from its proposed CP2 20-mtpa LNG facility once permitted. Altogether, Venture Global plans to sequester 1 mtpa of carbon, the equivalent of removing nearly 200,000 cars from the road each year for 20 years.

In another potential world-first, Dastur International has been awarded a US Department of Energy-funded study for the design and engineering of a CCS project that would be the first industrial-scale carbon-capture project for the steel sector in North America. The proposed project would capture up to 2 mtpa of carbon from the available blast furnace gases. New Jersey-based Dastur will be supported on the project by ION Clean Energy of Boulder, Colorado, and the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences.

And a third first? Colorado and Illinois are slated to host the world’s first emissions-free gas power plants, according to an announcement from clean technology company 8 Rivers Capital. The company plans to build an at-scale gas plant in each of the two states by 2025, deploying proprietary technology from Net Power, of which it is a co-owner, to generate 280 MW of clean electricity. Unlike at a conventional natural gas plant, the energy startup’s technology burns natural gas with pure oxygen instead of air, producing only CO2 and water as byproducts. Most of the CO2 is reused as part of Net Power’s four-step cycle, with the excess captured and “pipeline-ready” for underground storage.

Alberta has seen a wave of new CCS proposals. Shell’s Polaris project, to be located northeast of Edmonton, would be its second such facility, if approved, to collect emissions from the company’s refinery and chemical facilities and permanently store them underground. While the price tag for Polaris has not yet been disclosed, Shell officials have said it will cost about 30% less to construct its Quest project.

And Then There Was Gorgon
Chevron’s giant CCS project—which it described as the world’s largest—failed to meet a crucial project approvals target of sequestering at least 80% of CO2 emissions from gas reservoirs feeding a huge LNG project in Western Australia in the first 5 years of operation. Chevron confirmed that it was not going to meet its promised injection rates, with the project capturing only a fraction of the CO2 expected. Under the terms of Gorgon’s project approval, Chevron was required to sequester at least 80% of the emissions—or approximately 4 mtpa—from the reservoirs that feed the Gorgon LNG plant across a 5-year period. However, the company said that only 5 million metric tons of CO2 had been injected since the August 2019 startup. Chevron was not required to capture emissions released during LNG processing.

While the first LNG train at Gorgon came online in 2016, issues with the CCS facility delayed its startup until 2019 and have continued to plague reliable operations. According to a report in The Guardian, the CCS system stopped working properly earlier this year following a problem with a pressure-management system. The newspaper also quoted Mark Hatfield, head of Chevron Australia, as saying that the company would work with the Western Australia regulator on how to make up the unquantified shortfall and would release a report on the issue later in 2021.

New Angles for Tracking Offshore Methane Emissions
Tracking offshore emissions holds promise of filling “a crucial gap” in the effort to halt methane leaks, according to global emissions monitoring company GHGSat and the E&P companies who are joining its satellite-based effort to track methane emissions from offshore oil and gas platforms. The reason: Nearly 30% of the world’s oil and gas production takes place offshore. Advances in satellite observation have allowed for greater detection of onshore methane plumes. But tracking offshore emissions has proven more elusive because water absorbs sunlight when viewed directly from above. GHGSat said its satellites would take measurements from more acute angles and would focus on points known as “glint spots,” where the sun’s light reflects most strongly off the sea. Shell, Chevron, and TotalEnergies have joined a project that will rely on observations from GHGSat satellites, which use infrared sensor technology to identify methane as it absorbs sunlight bouncing off the surface of the Earth. Each of the offshore project’s three industrial participants will have six of their facilities observed. These include assets in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, according to GHGSat.

The Power of Heat
GreenFire Energy’s GreenLoop technology earned the company first place in the PIVOT2021 Geothermal Reimagined New Venture competition. GreenLoop is a closed-loop geothermal energy system designed to generate power from resources such as hot dry rock, unproductive hydrothermal wells, and certain oil and gas wells. PIVOT2021, which is organized by the Geothermal Entrepreneurship Organization from the University of Texas at Austin, is a virtual conference series aimed at pushing geothermal development toward exponential global growth. The conference took place virtually and in person in Austin on 19–23 July. It has wide support from the oil and gas and geothermal industries and from investors. The New Venture competition honors startups seen as having the greatest potential for global impact. The inaugural competition culminated with four finalists pitching to the judges—Richard Branson of Virgin and Chris Anderson of TED—at the event. Other finalists in addition to GreenFire Energy were Carbfix, Hephae Energy, and Hypersciences. The audience voted on the startup that they saw as the one with the greatest potential for global impact.

Forever Chemicals
For much of the past decade, oil companies engaged in drilling and fracturing have been allowed to pump into the ground chemicals that some say can break down over time into toxic substances known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals”—a class of long-lasting compounds known to pose a threat to people and wildlife. A recent article from The New York Times recounts how the US Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of these chemicals in 2011 despite its concerns about their toxicity. PFAS have been used for decades to make products such as nonstick pans, stain-resistant carpeting, and firefighting foam. According to the Times, industry researchers have long been aware of their toxicity but it wasn’t until the early 2000s, when Dupont was sued for pollution from its Teflon plant in West Virginia, that the dangers of PFAS began to become widely known. The Times also said that both the US Congress and the Biden administration have moved to better regulate PFAS.