Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery: A Critical Domestic Energy, Economic, and Environmental Opportunity



Amidst economic uncertainty, fiscal crisis and political division over energy policy, carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) offers a safe and commercially proven method of domestic oil production that can help the United States simultaneously address three urgent national priorities: 

  • Increasing our nation’s energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil, often imported from unstable and hostile regimes; 
  • Supporting job creation, increasing tax revenue, and reducing our trade deficit by keeping dollars now spent on oil imports here at home and at work in the U.S. economy; and 
  • Protecting the environment by capturing and storing CO2 from industrial facilities and power plants, while getting more American crude from areas already developed for oil and gas production. 

A largely unheralded example of American ingenuity, CO2-EOR was pioneered in West Texas in 1972 as a way to sustain oil production in otherwise declining oil fields. It works by injecting CO2 obtained from natural or man-made sources into existing oil fields to free up additional crude oil trapped in rock formations. In this way, CO2- EOR can significantly extend the lifespan and revitalize production of mature oil fields in the United States. 

Today, over 3,900 miles (Dooley, et al., 2009) of pipelines in the United States annually transport approximately 65 million tons of CO2 (Melzer, 2012) that the oil industry purchases for use in EOR, producing 281,000 barrels of domestic oil per day, or six percent of U.S. crude oil production (ARI, 2011). The EOR industry has captured, transported, and injected large volumes of CO2 for oil recovery over four decades with no major accidents, serious injuries or fatalities reported. 

America has the potential to expand CO2-EOR significantly. Advanced Resources International (ARI) estimates that an additional 26-61 billion barrels of oil could economically be recovered with today’s EOR technologies, potentially more than doubling current U.S. proven reserves. Moreover, “next generation” EOR technology could yield substantially greater gains, potentially increasing recoverable domestic oil from EOR to 67-137 billion barrels, and storing 20-45 billion metric tons of CO2that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere (ARI, 2011). 

The National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative (NEORI) was formed to help realize CO2-EOR’s full potential as a national energy security, economic and environmental strategy. Organized and staffed by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and the Great Plains Institute (GPI), the Initiative brought together a broad and unusual coalition of executives from the electric power, coal, ethanol, chemical, and oil and gas industries; state officials, legislators and regulators; and environmental and labor representatives.

NEORI was launched on July 17, 2011, in Washington, D.C., with bipartisan support from four U.S. Senators and a member of Congress. Project participants met on three occasions to define the scope and expectations of the project, provide feedback on technical matters, and offer policy guidance. They gathered in Washington, D.C., with the launch of the project on July 17, 2011; in Traverse City, MI, on September 21-22; and in Houston, TX, on November 1-2. The latter two meetings included field visits to commercial EOR operations and to a CO2 capture facility. 

NEORI participants also formed subgroups focused on developing policy recommendations, analysis and modeling, and communications and outreach materials. The subgroups held conference calls over several months, often on a weekly basis, to develop, refine, and reach consensus on recommendations and work products. 

This report presents NEORI participants’ consensus recommendations for targeted federal and state incentives to expand CO2-EOR. If implemented, these recommendations would significantly increase U.S. domestic oil production while generating net new tax revenues for the federal government and states struggling to fill budget gaps and jumpstart our nation’s economy. 

Click here to read the full set of recommendations.

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