TULSA — The climate change debate isn't likely to end anytime soon.
Chuck McConnell, assistant secretary for fossil energy at the U.S. Department of Energy, said there is no need to debate the cause of climate change once technology makes it possible to capture carbon dioxide emissions that can be used to fuel enhanced oil recovery operations.
Such technology is being developed now to make carbon capture the right choice for businesses and the environment, McConnell said Monday at the 2012 Improved Oil Recovery Symposium in Tulsa.
More than 800 people were on hand to hear from McConnell and Christopher Reddick, who heads BP's enhanced oil recovery program, at the five-day conference, which continues through Wednesday. Attendees represent more than 30 countries.
Reddick said the oil industry has been slow to embrace enhanced oil recovery, but there is growing proof of its merits.
He said such operations require a long-term effort from producers, who must have a thorough knowledge of the reservoirs where they are working.
BP has developed a program to flood sandstone reservoirs worldwide with low salt water to increase the amount of oil the company can recover.
McConnell advocated using carbon dioxide more often to enhance oil recovery. He called the combination an “un-mined gold story” for the U.S.
He said enhanced oil recovery fueled by carbon dioxide accounts for 5 percent of U.S. oil production, but it has grown by about 40 percent over the past six years as companies return to old oil fields to spur production with new techniques.
Currently the process relies on naturally occurring carbon dioxide, but McConnell said the U.S. could harness hundreds of thousands of tons of it from industrial operations like coal-fired power plants and petrochemical plants.
“What we need to be able to do is be able to capture that, utilize it and take it to those fields,” McConnell said. “We've got oil fields and we've got existing infrastructure that we can take advantage of.”
President Barack Obama wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 83 percent from the 2005 level by 2050.
“There is absolutely no way we can get there without CO2 being stored,” McConnell said.
He said that is a very expensive proposition right now, but the Department of Energy is working with private industry to develop the necessary technology to capture, store and use carbon dioxide rather than venting it into the atmosphere.
“We're really at a crossroads,” he said. “We have to make a choice between the economy and the environment. We need to choose the right path for the right reasons.”
The federal government has spent about $4 billion on carbon capture demonstration projects, leading to about $14 billion worth of investments by private companies.
McConnell said that partnership has developed new technology for capturing carbon dioxide emissions that is expected to result in more affordable solutions in the future.
“It's a post-2020 story,” he said. “It's not going to change the game next week.”