Port Arthur project called milestone for carbon-capture

Federal officials on Friday celebrated the success of a government-backed project in Port Arthur that is capturing carbon dioxide and putting it to use in the oil patch.

The acting assistant secretary for fossil energy, Christopher Smith, was on hand for a dedication ceremony at the Valero refinery in southeast Texas, where Air Products and Chemicals has just started extracting carbon dioxide from two steam methane reformers at Valero’s site.

Since launching operations in December 2012 and bringing the second reformer carbon capture system online in March, the Pennsylvania-based gas company has been able to trap more than 222,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

The captured carbon dioxide is then dried, compressed and shipped through Denbury’s Green Pipeline-Texas to the West Hastings oil field about 20 miles south of Houston, where it is slated to be pumped underground, helping to extract more crude at the site while indefinitely storing the greenhouse gas.

It is a major milestone for expensive and still-developing carbon capture and sequestration technology, which is viewed as the major means of cleaning up carbon emissions from industrial processes. The Air Products and Chemicals project was backed by some $431 million from the Energy Department, mostly grants authorized by the 2009 economic stimulus law.

“This groundbreaking project demonstrates the potential to produce economic benefits and increase our energy security while greatly reducing the environmental impacts of our fossil energy use,” Smith said.

The project is a classic example of a new Energy Department focus on sustainability and environmental related research, which Smith described at the Offshore Technology Conference on Thursday.

Air Products uses its steam methane reformers located within Valero’s Port Arthur plant to produce hydrogen that helps the refiner make cleaner-burning transportation fuels.

The company anticipates capturing 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. According to the Energy Department, the enhanced oil recovery program could allow Denbury Onshore to pick up an extra 1.6 million to 3.1 million barrels each year from the West Hastings field.

The initial deal was inked in May 2011, a year after an initial Energy Department grant was awarded.