Public, local officials learn more about carbon storage at Dry Fork Station

people sitting in a row at a meeting, listening
Attendees at the Wyoming CarbonSAFE public outreach meeting, held Aug. 3 at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center at the Dry Fork Station near Gillette.

How would carbon storage work in Wyoming? How can we be assured of the safety and permanence of carbon dioxide remaining under the ground?

Those were questions asked and answered during a public outreach event to provide information on the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project near Gillette on Aug. 3.

Basin Electric and the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources’ (SER) Center for Economic Geology Research hosted the event at the Wyoming Integrated Test Center (ITC) at Dry Fork Station.

“We are honored to be the host site for the project and to be a part of these cutting-edge advancements in energy technology,” said Tom Stalcup, Dry Fork Station plant manager.

Wyoming CarbonSAFE was launched in 2016 and is in Phase III after the School of Energy Resources and its partners received a $15.4 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy. The project has found that carbon dioxide can be stored underground near Dry Fork Station permanently, securely, and practically. In Phase III, researchers are finalizing site characterization, permitting wells for carbon dioxide storage, integrating carbon capture technology from the research being done at the Wyoming ITC, and conducting environmental analysis for commercial operation.

A well was drilled during Phase II of the project to extract core samples from the geological formations near the Dry Fork Station, and a 3-D seismic survey was conducted to study the subsurface away from the well. Later this fall, another well will be drilled to run classic interference tests on the storage reservoir with injected water in order to monitor and understand how fluid transfers in the deep storage zone. Both wells can eventually be used for carbon dioxide sequestration, though no carbon dioxide will be injected until Phase IV is approved and underway.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon challenged the state during his 2021 State of the State address to achieve negative net zero carbon emissions while continuing to use fossil fuels.

people listening to a speaker
Local citizens and elected officials attended the public event to learn more about the carbon dioxide storage research being done at the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project at the Dry Fork Station near Gillette.

“This [Dry Fork Station] is the best power plant in the world, in my opinion. It has all the bells and whistles [environmental controls],” said Holly Krutka, SER executive director. “Here in Wyoming we have the best chance to demonstrate and deploy this technology. We have very proactive communities here to develop and expand our energy. We have a lot of stakeholders and infrastructure, and this is a great place that allows technology developers to test their innovations on-site with access to real world conditions.”

Two Gillette residents in attendance were Colleen Faber, Campbell County Commissioner, and Wyoming Rep. John Bear (Dist. 31).

“I came to this meeting with a strong background in oil and gas, so I have an understanding of Class VI well and enhanced oil recovery and how carbon dioxide has been used around the state and in industry. I learned a bit more about strictly carbon capture versus the alternative uses we’ve seen,” Faber said. “I believe people are interested in knowing how we will move this technology forward. We know right now we are in the beginning stages and everybody is excited to see the end result, but it takes time.”

Bear serves on the Minerals, Business, and Economic Development Committee in the Wyoming legislature. “This last session, we provided $10 million in funding for the next stage of this study, so we are very interested in seeing how it’s progressing. Coal is very important to jobs and the economy in our state, and anything we can do to ensure coal continues to be mined is important to me,” Bear said. “Because this is new technology, we want to be sure the process is safe for our residents. It’s also important that these processes are moving in a way that they can be industrialized and commercialized, so that the technology will be useful in states outside of Wyoming, as well.”

Center for Economic Geology Research Director Fred McLaughlin said it takes experts from many different disciplines to make a research project like CarbonSAFE successful. He and co-principal investigators from SER, Scott Quillinan and Kipp Coddington, are working with carbon management lawyers, engineers, geologists, environmental scientists, economists, business leaders, regulation and policy agencies, and outreach experts. “Going into the project we had an idea of what we were hoping to study – both in reservoirs and seals,” McLaughlin said. “We found some targets that had never been explored or characterized.”

Questions from the public during the event centered on regulation and safety of carbon dioxide storage. “These activities, even in the research phase, are stringently and heavily regulated under federal law and under state law,” said Coddington. “These two wells will be regulated under the underground injection control program which is designed to protect and prevent the endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.”

Phase IV of the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project would begin in 2023 if approval is granted to drill monitoring wells and inject carbon dioxide. This phase of the project would require Basin Electric approval and additional federal funding.

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