The topic of carbon sequestration is one of growing importance in the oil and gas industry. While not at the forefront of most oilfield discussions, efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide (CO2) are of interest to the global HSE community and the oil and gas industry by extension.
While not getting too deep into the details or the political debate surrounding climate change, we wanted to offer a little insight into what carbon sequestration is and what, if anything, you can or should do about it.
What Is Carbon Sequestration?
Carbon sequestration is the capture and storage of carbon dioxide. This process of carbon capture and long-term storage is something that occurs naturally and is part of the photosynthesis process.
When you hear the word storage, your mind might conjure up the image of some sort of tank farm or battery array. For carbon sequestration, the definition of storage is much more familiar to everyday life.
Carbon dioxide is stored in carbon sinks. Carbon sinks can be naturally occurring or artificial, with the largest of these being the ocean.
Everything from large forests to the ocean, even soil and geological formations can and do store carbon in a fairly inert form. Carbon storage in carbon sinks can be stable in one form for thousands of years. Conversely, it can be released quite rapidly – the burning of wood, either as a fuel source or through a naturally occurring forest fire, can release the once-trapped carbon forming carbon dioxide.
Artificial Carbon Sequestration
Unlike natural carbon sequestration, artificial carbon sequestration captures carbon at the point of release. The release of carbon through the burning of flue gasses and other processes related to the petroleum and petrochemical industries can be captured and repurposed to prevent the release of carbon dioxide into the environment.
The captured carbon is then most often stored in a carbon sink back into a geological formation after all of the recoverable hydrocarbons have been removed from a well site.
There are a few other carbon sinks used to store carbon, but these have side effects that could be worse for the environment than the theoretical gains of the artificial carbon sequestration process.
Alternative Uses of Captured Carbon
Though not in wide use, there have been recent developments in turning waste such as drill cuttings and captured carbon into usable products such as building materials.
With the increase in government regulation regarding national, industry-related and company-specific carbon emission standards, every business must understand what they must do to not only comply with regulations imposed on their business but how to operate in a safe and responsible manner.