University of Wyoming researchers are another step closer to knowing what potential there is for commercial carbon dioxide storage under the Powder River Basin.
Led by UW, the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project has begun drilling a 10,200-foot-deep test well near the Dry Fork Station power plant about 10 miles north of Gillette on land owned and prepared by Basin Electric Power Cooperative.
The well is being drilled by Gillette-based Cyclone Drilling and it’s located about a quarter-mile south of the power plant and Wyoming Integrated Test Center, according to a UW press release. Basin Electric is a partner in the project and did work to prepare the site for drilling.
“Project operations are going exceedingly well thanks to the help of Basin Electric, Western Fuels and the rest of the team members,” said Fred McLaughlin, senior geologist and project manager for the UW School of Energy Resources’ Center for Economic Geology Research.
For the next month, the well will be drilled, from which researchers expect to extract about 840 feet of core samples.
The samples will provide valuable information about the potential of deep storage reservoirs below the PRB and the rock layers that seal the reservoirs.
Later this year, the research will continue with collecting 12.5 square miles of 3D seismic data as well, according to the release.
“Combined, the 3D seismic information and data from the stratigraphic test well will allow us to assess the feasibility of storing CO2 underground in this geological formation,” said Scott Quillinan, director of research with the School of Energy Resources.
The well is part of a $9.77 million U.S. Department of Energy grant for work that researchers hope will demonstrate that more than 50 million metric tons of CO2 could be stored underground near the 385-megawatt Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant.
Along with another $2.47 million in donations and in-kind contributions from the project’s partners, the two-year effort will cost $12.25 million overall with a goal to qualify for the DOE’s next level of funding to make the storage happen.
The research was part of a well-attending series of listening sessions around Wyoming in February, including one in Gillette that filled the Wyoming Room at the Campbell County Public Library.
There, UW researchers explained that while Gillette is already known as the Energy Capital of the Nation, developing successful carbon capture and sequestration here will vault the city to another level of global recognition.
At 10,200 feet, the test well will delve deeper than anyone ever has in the Powder River Basin, McLaughlin and Quillinan said at the February meeting.
Pointing out that Dry Fork Station is the second newest coal-fired power plant in the nation — and the most efficient and cleanest burning — Quillnan said the clock is already ticking on coal.
Without CO2 sequestration, he said that “there may never be another coal-fired power plant built” in the United States.
Still, the potential for sequestration in Campbell County and throughout the PRB is enormous, he said. Preliminary research shows that 70-80% of the carbon dioxide produced by Dry Fork Station could be reused in some capacity if captured.
“All the pieces are here to do this,” Quillinan said. “We just need to start putting them together.”
While CO2 capture and sequestration isn’t a new idea and is being pursued around the globe, Wyoming has an inside track on making it happen in an efficient and affordable way, Kipp Coddington, director of energy policy and economics at the UW School of Energy Resources, told Gillette residents at the listening session.
Admitting that “it takes a form of arrogance to come here to Gillette and talk to you about the importance of energy,” Coddington said that “if this technology (is) going to take off, it (is) going to take off right here in Wyoming.”
That the rest of the United States and much of the world are moving away from burning coal to produce electricity is a reality, no matter what anyone’s personal beliefs are about climate change, he said. That makes CO2 solutions necessary, because developing and implementing those are the only way others are going to be OK with burning coal in the future.
“Whether you like it or not, it’s relevant … because it’s a view held by everyone we’re dependent upon,” Coddington said.