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This Greenhouse Gas Just Might Save the Oil Industry

Air Product's carbon capture facility. Photo credit: Air Products.

According to the EPA, carbon dioxide accounted for 84% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. The largest source of those emissions comes from electricity generation, which accounted for 38% of the total. Coal is the driving force behind that number, as it produces more carbon dioxide emissions than either oil or natural gas. Transportation and industrial sources are also major emitters of carbon, at 31% and 14%, respectively. The good news in all of this is that these emissions could prove to be very valuable to the oil industry.

Oil's biggest problem
Oil is a finite resource. At last count, the United States only had about 29 billion barrels of proven reserves. Given that we consume nearly 7 billion barrels of oil each year, that means we rely on other nations to meet much of our oil needs. That being said, there's actually substantially more oil underneath the U.S. -- the only problem is that we can't recover it.

The average U.S. oil well recovers only about 30% of the original oil that's in place. If we could double our recovery to 60%, the U.S. would be ranked fifth in the world in terms of proven oil reserves. The bottom line is that we're leaving an estimated 89 billion barrels of oil trapped underneath the United States. But this is where carbon dioxide can step in and save the day.

Carbon dioxide to the rescue
By employing enhanced oil recovery, or EOR, techniques using carbon dioxide, companies such as Denbury Resources (NYSE: DNR  ) and Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY  ) are able push more oil out of our legacy oil basins. Occidental is a leader in carbon dioxide flooding, as 60% of its oil production in the Permian Basin is from its carbon dioxide EOR related projects. The company believes that it will be able to recover another 2.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent thanks to its extensive use of carbon dioxide.

Denbury is even more focused on carbon dioxide EOR, as 100% of its business is dedicated to that method. Like Occidental, it has access to large, naturally occurring sources of carbon dioxide. However, Denbury is also moving to capture and store carbon from industrial facilities to fuel its future growth.

This is really where carbon and oil can work together in harmony. For example, Denbury is using 50 million cubic feet per day of carbon dioxide from an Air Products and Chemicals (NYSE: APD  ) hydrogen plant in Texas. The carbon from that facility should enable Denbury to recover up to 3.1 million barrels of oil each year. In another example, next year Denbury will take about 115 million cubic feet of carbon dioxide per day from Southern's (NYSE: SO  ) Kemper County Energy Facility in Mississippi. The coal-fired plant will see its overall emissions reduced by 65%, which puts it on par with a comparable-sized natural gas power plant. The future potential of similar projects by utility and industrial users has the potential to produce a lot of oil, while also cutting carbon emissions.

Denbury's involvement in the process is key. It is one of the few companies able to take the captured carbon dioxide, use it to push more oil out of mature oil fields, and then keep the carbon sequestered in the fields. It's really the ideal carbon capture and sequestration concept.

Final Foolish thoughts
We have two big problems in America. One, there isn't enough oil to meet our needs, and two, our thirst for energy is emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Enhanced oil recovery methods that take that carbon and inject it into mature oil fields is really a win-win solution. 

Carbon flooding is one of the many techniques we are using to drive record oil and natural gas production to revolutionize the United States' energy position. That's why The Motley Fool has highlighted a company that specializes in it as part of a comprehensive look at three energy companies set to soar during this transformation in the energy industry. To find out if that company is Denbury, as well as to learn the other two companies that are spreading their wings, check out the special free report "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free. 

Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 1:58 PM, cwon14 wrote:

    Another pile of AGW bs, yes crony fraud helps big oil and doesn't hurt it. It increases the basic cost of energy which is what raises profit margins.

    Greens are beyond stupid if they hadn't figured this out. Yes, they are beyond stupid.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 3:17 PM, cwahl6 wrote:

    Lets get real here.. we have way more than 29billion barrels of reserves.. Come on writers.. get it correct..

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 4:27 PM, TMFmd19 wrote:

    @cwahl6 - We probably do, however, proven (key word here) oil reserves are 29 billion barrels of oil according to the Energy Information Agency.

    That is the 2011 number, but that is the latest number.


  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 5:36 PM, 308roadready wrote:

    My question about reserves is. How old are the numbers? Do they count the advances in oil production such as fracturing and now carbon injection? Think of the oil shale in Colorado (how many millions/billions barrels of oil) if someone devised a way to separate it that would add to the oil reserves. Lets face it oil is the second most abundant liquid on earth. We are not going to run out anytime soon.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 6:31 PM, DickHamilton wrote:

    cwon14 - did you even understand the point of the article? no - you can't see past your prejudices and the preset view from the right - already long out of date.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 8:22 PM, Jib76 wrote:

    This article outlines a brilliant scientific and engineering strategy. Reduce carbon dioxide emissions by coal fired electrical power plant by 50 to 100 percent by capturing all of that CO2 and then inject it into oil wells in decline to dramatically increase their production. The long term environmental benefits would be enormous!

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2013, at 11:58 PM, drandyd wrote:

    I hate to bust your bubble here but you are years late with this story . CO2 has been used in this manner for years.

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2013, at 12:32 AM, AllenElliott wrote:

    This after they have demonized what they call climate change in every way possible.

  • Report this Comment On September 15, 2013, at 8:03 AM, TMFmd19 wrote:

    @308roadready - The official proved reserve number by the US Energy information Agency is 29 billion barrels of oil in the U.S. However, that is likely to be revised substantially higher over the coming years.

    For example, California's Monterey Shale is believed to hold 15 billion barrels of recoverable shale oil. Meanwhile, in Texas' Permian Basin there are the Spraberry/Wolfberry/cline shales some believe hold the second largest reserves of oil and gas in the world.

    Finally, like I mentioned in the article, we can only usually produce about 30% of what's in the rock. EOR techniques and new technology could unlock even more oil.

    All that to say, expect major upward revisions to that number in the future.


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