Energy companies hoping to unlock western Colorado's oil shale reserves are exploring how to lock up carbon dioxide at the same time.
Carbon sequestration, an effort to capture carbon dioxide to keep it from entering the atmosphere and contributing to global warming, is becoming a focal point for revised oil shale research and development efforts.
"We're very focused on producing oil shale in a way that addresses environmental impacts, including creation of CO2,' said Claude Pupkin, president of American Shale Oil LLC, or AMSO, which holds a federal research, development and demonstration lease in Rio Blanco County.
In December, AMSO and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced they were teaming up to develop carbon sequestration technologies for in-ground oil shale production processes. Alan Burnham, AMSO's chief technology officer, previously worked more than 30 years at the laboratory in areas including oil shale processing.
Meanwhile, French energy giant Total is acquiring a 50 percent stake in AMSO, bringing what Pupkin said is a focus on carbon issues and expertise in carbon sequestration.
Jeremy Boak, director of the Center for Oil Shale Technology and Research at the Colorado School of Mines, said energy companies recognize the need to explore carbon sequestration as part of oil shale efforts.
In 2006, Chevron Corp. agreed to work with Los Alamos National Laboratory on oil shale research including studying in-ground processing that could mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Chevron also holds a federal oil shale RD&D lease in Rio Blanco County. It is exploring injecting carbon dioxide under high pressure underground, with the goal of freeing up kerogen fuel while storing the carbon dioxide.
Shell, which holds three Colorado shale leases, also is considering the carbon footprint of its oil shale project.
"CO2 sequestration is just a huge issue for energy development overall,' Shell spokesman Tracy Boyd said.
Shell is convinced climate change is occurring and is pursuing everything from sequestration to pursuit of cleaner energy sources to address it in all of the company's operations, Boyd said.
A big part of the carbon footprint associated with oil shale development could come from the electricity needs such projects would create. Boyd said he expects Shell would use wind energy to help power its shale effort.
Celia Boddington, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said the agency has no sequestration requirements for its shale leases.
A 2007 energy act requires the agency to maintain records on the quantity of carbon dioxide stored within federal mineral leaseholds, and the BLM anticipates issuing instructions to its field offices to start an inventory process, she said.
The law also requires the BLM to give Congress a report on a recommended framework for managing geological carbon sequestration activities on public land. That report is undergoing internal review, Boddington said.
Frank Smith, energy organizer for the Western Colorado Congress citizens group, said the carbon footprint of oil shale development is a concern for the conservation community. At the same time, possible sequestration methods raise concerns in terms of their potential impacts, such as on landscapes surrounding injection wells and on groundwater.
As a result, carbon sequestration is just one of many aspects needing further study when it comes to oil shale development, he said.