Carbon capture plan will boost oilfield output

Adnoc project will use carbon dioxide to improve productivity of oilfields, then leave the greenhouse gas underground.

ABU DHABI // It is a pilot project with a potential golden payoff. Carbon dioxide, that dreaded greenhouse-gas chemical compound, not only harnessed to increase output from oilfields - but eventually stored underground. Permanently.

The test by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) promises to pave the way for the first commercial application of carbon capture and storage (CCS), a set of integrated technologies for preventing carbon emissions from power plants and other large industrial emitters from being spewed into the atmosphere. In the most favourable scenario, the significant cost of CCS technology could be offset by using the captured carbon dioxide (CO2) for an economic purpose such as pushing more oil out of the ground.

The various parts of CCS technology have been tested and proved to be effective at reducing industrial carbon emissions. Adnoc, however, is the first company planning to put them all together on a commercial scale. Abu Dhabi plans to build a network of CO2 pipelines to carry captured emissions from several large industrial plants to onshore oilfields. Technical experts giving a presentation yesterday at Adnoc's exhibition stand at the World Future Energy Summit described the initial test as "small-scale". Five additional pilot projects, however, are planned over the next two years, they said.

The first project, launched in November, is injecting CO2 into the porous, oil-bearing rocks of the Rumaitha field, located beneath coastal land south of the capital. The Adnoc representatives said the other projects were still in the planning stage. Eventually, Adnoc hopes to use the technology to raise the maximum volume of oil it can extract from its fields to more than 70 per cent from about 30 per cent currently.

The company is testing several enhanced oil-recovery techniques, including CO2 injection, which is one of the more promising. The CCS project, which has the potential to reduce Abu Dhabi's carbon footprint significantly, is a co-operative venture between Adnoc and Masdar, the Abu Dhabi Government's clean-energy company and the sponsor of the energy summit. "There is very good collaboration now between Adnoc and Masdar," said Mohamed al Shamma, a spokesman for Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company, a unit of Adnoc.

Masdar will supply CO2 to the Adnoc pilot projects. In a US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) venture with BP, Masdar also plans to build an integrated project to produce hydrogen and CO2 from natural gas, capture the CO2 and use the hydrogen as clean fuel for generating electricity. If the land-based CO2-injection tests prove successful, it may be possible to use the technique to stimulate production from Adnoc's offshore oilfields and to store large volumes of carbon dioxide beneath the Gulf, Mr al Shamma said.

"Adnoc always takes the initiative. Whatever is available to improve energy sustainability, they will not hesitate to use it," he added. Other initiatives the national oil company has taken to reduce carbon emissions include the reduction to almost zero of gas flaring the wasteful practice of burning natural gas produced at oilfields and petroleum refineries.