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Algeria's carbon-capture experiment

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  • Algeria's carbon-capture experiment

    KRECHBA, Algeria, December 15, 2008 (AFP) – On a desolate, wind-pummeled expanse of central Algeria, natural gas is being pumped out of the Sahara Desert and sent on to energy-starved Europe, leaving nearly all its environment-damaging carbon dioxide buried deep beneath the earth's surface.

    The In Salah gas project, a four-year old venture grouping energy majors Sonatrach of Algeria, BP of Britain and Statoil of Norway, is described by its managers as the world's first and largest onshore carbon capture and sequestration scheme.

    Natural gas from the Krechba field, one of three In Salah fields currently in operation, has a carbon dioxide content of 9.1 percent, making it unmarketable in that form in Europe, where CO2 can be no higher than 0.3 percent.

    "You can't sell gas with a high carbon content - you have to take it out," said Michael Mossman of BP.

    "And so we had a decision to make - are we just going to vent it into the atmosphere or are we going to do something different?"

    "Something different" at the Krechba facility, a bewildering warren of pipes and tanks, was the re-injection of the CO2 into aquifers that lie 1,850 metres (6,100 feet) beneath the surface, where according to project vice president Mohammed Keddamm it should stay forever under layers of shale, a rock that is impermeable to gas.

    "There's no reason for the CO2 to migrate anywhere," he said. "There's no reason why it shouldn't stay there."

    Either the CO2 is released into the atmosphere or it is captured and buried. There is no realistic third option, project officials contend.

    In Salah managers say an estimated 800,000 tonnes of CO2 is being re-injected each year, equivalent to what 200,000 cars produce annually.

    Over the anticipated 30-year life of project, about 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be captured and sequestered deep in the earth.

    The gas is purged of nearly all its CO2 by being pumped through a liquid amine solution. Amine is a chemical capable of detecting - and separating - CO2 from natural gas.

    The natural gas is then transferred via pipeline to a collection point 530 kilometres (330 miles) away at Hassi R'Mel before being exported to Europe.

    The sprawling In Salah project, which covers 3,000 square kilometres of the Sahara and is located 1,200 kilometres south of Algiers, must surely be among the most forbidding places on earth.

    Project workers say the temperature in the summer can rise above 60 degrees Celsius (140 F) and fall below freezing in winter.

    The site, often buffeted by violent sandstorms, is 200 kilometres from the nearest inhabited community and is realistically accessible only by air.

    About 2,000 workers are on location, four weeks on duty, 12 hours a day and no weekends, and four weeks off.

    There are some amenities, however - a swimming pool, gym, a professional caterer and satellite television connection.

    "We're in the middle of nowhere," said field operations manager Paul Andrews.

    "If we want something we have to make it. We generate our own power, drill for water and deal with sewage."

    About 4.0 billion dollars is to be invested in the project, with the CO2 capture and sequestration scheme costing just 100 million dollars.

    But despite its cost effectiveness and technical feasibility, the In Salah model may not be universally applicable.

    What is needed is a verifiably secure reservoir to contain the CO2, which may not be available elsewhere.

    At the Krechba field, there are no worries on that score.

    "We are sure about the integrity of the reservoir," said Keddam.

  • #2

    December 15, 2008 -- About 700 miles south of Algiers, the capital of Algeria, a monumental assemblage of pipes and cylinders rises from the bleak Sahara Desert. Not far away is a small airstrip and helicopter pad. And in a compound down the road, surrounded by a thick stand of trees to break the whistling winds, there are dormitories, tennis courts, even a mess hall, where a crew of chefs whips up hearty meals including lobster pie and potato tarts for several hundred people.

    In a way, this oil industry camp represents an effort to turn the desert — or at least the natural gas Algeria exports to Europe — green. The plant, which is situated on a tiny oasis known as Krechba, is designed to strip out and cleanly dispose of the carbon dioxide contained in the gas produced by a vast network of seven distinct fields below the desert floor.

    The gas in this part of gas-rich Algeria contains about 7% CO2, on average. That contaminant level must be reduced to about 0.3% before it is exported to Italy and other European countries. In the past, energy companies vented such unwanted CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to the greenhouse gas problem. But in this case, the partners, Sonatrach, the national oil and gas company, BP (BP), and, Norway's Statoil (STO) decided in the late 1990s to store the carbon dioxide underground.

    Executives at the site say that the In Salah Gas Project, named for an oasis about 100 miles to the south, is the largest so-called carbon, capture and storage venture in existence. Accounting for about 12% of Algeria's gas output, it is an experiment — but a very large-scale and profitable one. Including military units intended to deter attacks by Islamic militants, who are still a serious threat in Algeria, there are some 2,000 people working on the vast undertaking.

    The companies say their project, which will produce gas for roughly 25 years, is preventing about 800,000 tons of CO2 from going into the atmosphere annually. That's comparable to taking 200,000 cars off the road, they say. While there are difficulties and questions, it looks like a promising step in the effort to reduce CO2 emissions from one large source: the oil and gas industry. Although not highly publicized, In Salah attracts visitors from within the industry who want to see if there are any lessons they can learn for their own oil and gas fields. Recent guests included a group from Abu Dhabi National Oil.

    The added cost of disposing of the CO2 isn't huge. Mohamed Keddam, a Sonatrach executive who serves as vice-president of In Salah Gas, put the price tag at $100 million out of an overall $4 billion investment, or about 2.5%. That doesn't include daily operating costs. When the partners decided to move ahead with In Salah in the late 1990s, they were attracted by the opportunity to experiment with a new, possibly environmentally friendly technology. "We didn't feel it was right to vent the CO2 if we could do something else with it," says Michael Mossman, a BP executive who is also president of In Salah Gas.

    Once the methane is purified at the Krechba plant to export-quality grade, it heads north in a buried export pipeline to join the Algerian gas network. The captured CO2 is pressurized by two giant compressors supplied by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

    The CO2 is then whisked along separate pipelines and pumped a mile into the ground into a body of water beneath the gas field. The companies figure that by the time the gas migrates up into the gas part of the reservoir, the project's life will have ended.

    Contamination questions

    The big question is whether the CO2 will somehow escape into the atmosphere or, perhaps, contaminate important nearby water supplies. One In Salah executive said that the biggest danger is that the CO2 could somehow escape into an ancient aquifer that lies above the gas field. The companies, however, are confident that this reservoir, which has a thick layer of shale forming a seal on top, will prove impervious. Their thinking is that if it has held gas for thousands of years, that's good reason to think it can do so in the future.

    Although the environmental bent of former BP CEO John Browne is said to have influenced BP's decision to go ahead with In Salah, the international companies and Sonatrach are not altruists. They see economic potential in what they are doing in In Salah. Both BP and Statoil are heavily invested in the growing business of supplying gas to Europe. Algeria is one of Europe's key gas sources, accounting for about 10% of European consumption.

    With the European Union pressuring industry to reduce carbon emissions sharply, projects such as In Salah that cut CO2 could prove increasingly valuable to their owners. Sahnoun, who oversees Sonatrach's many joint ventures with international companies, says what's being done in In Salah is "likely to be generalized to the rest of the projects in the area." In particular, he says upcoming gas field developments with Gaz de France, Total and Repsol (REP) look like good candidates for carbon capture and storage. It isn't yet clear, though, how the EU will consider gas from projects outside its borders, such as In Salah.

    What's more, not all gas projects may be suitable for the technology being pioneered at In Salah. Some gas fields don't have high CO2 concentrations. And having the right type of reservoir, such as the one that lies beneath Krechba, also helps make the project viable economically. Keddam, the In Salah vice-president, pegs the total cost of carbon storage at In Salah at about $14 per ton — which he thinks is substantially below what the EU is likely to charge for CO2 emissions. In Salah alone is not going to save the world, but it could prove a step in the right direction.


    • #3
      wow that's really cool... too bad they couldn't think of this min abl


      • #4

        IN SALAH, Algeria, December 16, 2008: A gas field in the Sahara Desert is seeking to set a global environmental example with a project to bury carbon dioxide instead of spewing it into the atmosphere.

        A joint venture of Algerian and international oil firms in In Salah, one of Algeria's largest natural gas fields, has invested $100 million to capture the greenhouse gas as it's emitted and inject it deep underground.

        The virtues and risks of the technique, called carbon capture and storage, were hotly debated at U.N. climate talks in Poznan, Poland, earlier this month.

        "A hundred million dollars is a large sum for anybody, but we had to start somewhere," said Michael Mossman of the British oil firm BP PLC, who heads the venture with Norway's Statoil and Algeria's national oil company, Sonatrach.

        "The Algerians were very receptive to the project," he said Sunday, as journalists toured the site ahead of a conference by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, in the northwestern town of Oran this week.

        Algeria doesn't want to stop with In Salah: The gas-rich nation is now asking all foreign drilling partners to include such so-called carbon sequestration plans in their investment projects, according to Sonatrach.

        Underground storage usually involves pumping carbon into empty coal or salt mines and has never been done at an onshore gas drill or on such a scale as at In Salah, BP and Sonatrach say.

        Most gas fields, which filter carbon dioxide from the natural gas they extract, release the pollutant into the air. But In Salah pumps the carbon 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) underground.

        The joint venture says the gas field buries 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, or the equivalent of 200,000 cars driving 30,000 kilometers (18,640 miles). Carbon dioxide represents 7 percent of the 9 billion cubic meters (318 billion cubic feet) of gas extracted at In Salah's rig each year.

        Some scientists and conservation groups worry that underground carbon storage isn't safe because the pollutant could leak back into the atmosphere. In Salah's joint venture says it pumps the carbon back directly into the natural gas and water reservoir.

        "If it contained gas for millions of years without leakage, why would it start leaking now?" says Mohamed Keddan, the station manager at this sprawling drilling field that lies in the Sahara's barren moonscapes 1,200 kilometers (720 miles) south of the capital, Algiers.

        Algeria's natural gas usually holds 4 to 6 percent carbon dioxide but its main customer, the European Union, only accepts 2 percent. That means huge amounts of carbon are filtered and dumped into the atmosphere, said Sahnoun Said, the international partnership manager at Sonatrach. Algeria exports 65 billion cubic meters (2,295 billion cubic feet) each year. In Salah purifies gas to a 0.3 percent carbon level.

        Both the Algerians and British Petroleum view their project as a potential source of profit if environmental rules change.

        Gas sequestration on drilling fields isn't currently taken into account by the Kyoto Protocol, which regulates emissions of greenhouse gases and arbitrates how companies can obtain "carbon credits" for limiting pollution. But this could change as world leaders and the United Nations prepare to negotiate a new treaty to succeed the Kyoto pact, which expires in 2012.

        "BP is certainly interested in this becoming accepted under a carbon credit agreement," Mossman told The AP.

        He said credits at about $25 per ton of saved carbon could bring millions of dollars of additional income to gas drilling sites like In Salah, and make carbon sequestration economically viable for other drilling firms.

        The U.N. environmental body says nations are in heated discussions over whether techniques such as the one used at In Salah should be one of the means to gain carbon credits.

        Algerian Energy Minister Chakib Khelil said In Salah was Algeria's contribution to Kyoto protocol efforts. "I hope it will make us profit from carbon credits one of these days," he said.


        • #5

          Mercredi 17 Décembre 2008 -- Le projet de capture et de séquestration de gaz carbonique, l’un des rares au monde, opéré sur le champ gazier d’In Salah, exploité par la joint-venture Sonatrach, BP, Statoil, pourrait bien devenir un cas d’école. La conférence sur le réchauffement climatique, organisée la semaine dernière à Pozdan (Pologne), a évoqué la possibilité de généralisation de ce type de projet et d’utilisation de telles techniques, un moyen pour les pays d’accéder à des crédits carbones.

          Le site d’In Salah est depuis 2004 le plus grand laboratoire de «pipeline écologique», affirme M. Mohamed Keddam, vice-président de la joint-venture, cité par l’AFP. Le projet produit chaque année 9 milliards de m3 de gaz, qui contiennent entre 4 et 9 % de CO2, alors que l’Europe, où ce gaz est acheminé, exige que la part du CO2 n’excède par 0,3 %. Le procédé de la capture et de la séquestration du CO2 a été retenu pour permettre de réinjecter dans un réservoir 800 000 tonnes par an de CO2, soit l’équivalent de l’émission de gaz carbonique de 200 000 voitures parcourant 30 000 km par an, selon les responsables du projet.

          La solution qui a nécessité un investissement de 100 millions de dollars, sur un montant global du projet gazier de l’ordre de 4 milliards de dollars, est «techniquement faisable, économiquement acceptable et géologiquement viable», estime Mickael Mossman, président d’In Salah Gas. Ce dernier indique que «les images satellites prouvent que le CO2, une fois stocké, évolue selon nos prévisions.» Pour M. Mossman, un tel projet s’imposait, car «nous avons estimé qu’il n’était pas juste de rejeter le CO2 si nous pouvions faire quelque chose d’autre avec».

          Se pose alors la question de savoir pourquoi ne pas étendre cette solution à d’autres champs gaziers ? Selon M. Keddam, «la plus grosse difficulté consiste à trouver un site bénéficiant d’un réservoir totalement intègre, sans fuite possible, et de capacités de stockage suffisantes». Certains responsables estiment, par ailleurs, qu’un baril en dessous de 30 dollars rendrait le projet peu viable et empêcherait une généralisation de tels projets. Mais pour M. Keddam, «si l’on parle uniquement d’économie, on ne fait pas ce genre de choses et chacun ira rejeter dans l’atmosphère ses émissions de gaz à effet de serre. Mais alors, qu’adviendra-t-il de l’humanité ?».


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