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McClatchy-Tribune  08/03/2014 10:02 AM ET
Carbon captured from power plants potential key to future oil production [St. Louis Post-Dispatch :: ]

Aug. 03--WASHINGTON -- A new $1 billion Texas project to capture carbon dioxide from a coal-burning power plant and use it to extract hard-to-get oil out of existing wells may be a breakthrough that a coalition of energy, technological and environmental interests has been looking for.

If successful, the project could have a long-term effect on Missouri and Illinois, among the most coal-dependent states for electrical power generation.

The project's announcement came just weeks after President Barack Obama proposed reduction of carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 82 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases in the U.S. in 2012 came from carbon dioxide.

The new Texas facility, a joint venture of the U.S. energy giant NRG and the Japanese oil and gas exploration company JX Nippon, will capture emissions from a coal-burning power plant and pipe the carbon dioxide 82 miles to current oil fields for a process called Enhanced Oil Recovery.

The technology has been around for 40 years, but it has primarily used CO2 found in natural deposits or captured from industrial users of fossil fuels other than power plants.

Vic Svec, senior vice president at St. Louis-based Peabody, which mines coal in Illinois and other states, said his company backed all forms of carbon capture, storage and utilization.

Arch Coal, based in Creve Coeur, has joined a diverse coalition of energy companies, environmentalists and federal and state officials pushing Enhanced Oil Recovery using CO2 from coal-burning plants.

"We believe strongly that there is no path to a low-carbon future in any meaningful time frame without a low-carbon solution for fossil fuels," said Deck Slone, Arch's senior vice president for strategy and public affairs.

The Department of Energy estimates that in 2012, an average of 3.1 billion cubic feet of CO2 was used to produce 282,000 barrels of oil a day.

In April, DOE predicted that "significant new volumes of CO2 captured from industrial sources," along with new pipelines and the availability of natural sources will "enable CO2-EOR based oil production to grow significantly during the rest of this decade."

When finished, its project with JX Nippon will be the "world's largest post-combustion carbon capture facility on an existing coal plant," capturing 90 percent of the CO2 emissions from a coal-fired power plant, the companies said in a joint statement. The captured CO2, once piped to an established Texas oil field, will boost production from 500 to about 15,000 barrels a day, the companies said.

It is the second such project in the world, along with one by SaskPower in Canada, said Brad Crabtree, vice president of Fossil Energy at the Great Plains Institute.

Crabtree has helped organize a diverse, unusual coalition of private and public interests called the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative. Its members range from environmentalists to state officials, to Arch Coal and the global agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland.

"All these groups believe in the importance of technology in addressing carbon concerns and believe strongly that Enhanced Oil Recovery has a significant role to play," Arch Coal's Slone said.

His company last year sold 140 million tons of coal to power generators and steel manufacturers on five continents. The company's website says it controls an estimated 5 billion tons of domestic coal deposits.

This summer, the nonprofit Center for Climate and Energy Solutions offered a seminar for Capitol Hill staffers on the merits of capturing carbon dioxide from power plants to boost oil production while storing the gas underground. Speakers included representatives of Arch Coal; the AFL-CIO; the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate program manager; and former Missouri Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt.

NEORI is pushing to expand tax credits to accelerate development of the technology the NRG project employs. A bill that wou

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