Lawmakers consider using carbon dioxide to extract more oil from Michigan wells

By NICK STANEK

Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan lawmakers are considering a controversial bill that will allow drillers  to use carbon dioxide to extract oil  from outdated wells.

It is part of a series of bills to amend laws that regulate the storage and purchase of crude oil and petroleum. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, will allow companies to pump carbon dioxide deep into old wells to extract more oil.

“If you have a pop bottle and you shake it, it overflows,” said Maggie Datema, the director of legislative affairs at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “It’s the same concept. You can get some more oil out of a well and you’re [isolating] the CO2 when you inject it into the oil and the well.”

The Department of Environmental Quality supports the legislation.

Oil wells usually contain some amount of oil that is too deep to access.  The legislation is meant  to allow drillers to use carbon dioxide to push oil to the top.

This is not the same technique as fracking, which injects a mixture of chemicals to force natural gas to the surface.

“It doesn’t involve the controversial technique of fracking,” Pettalia said.  “These are existing wells. They will not have to be drilled any further and new wells will not have to be drilled.”

“These are resources we already identified, we already know where they are, and the technique is to help us capture the inventory of oil we area already aware of,” he said.

Fracking is a process that is usually used to extract natural gas and rarely used to extract oil.

Fracking creates fractures in rock or shale. But usually in oil wells, those fractures are already made, said James Clift, the policy director  of the Michigan Environmental Council.  The environmental council is neutral on the bill.

The bill could generate more revenue for the state because it is a way to reuse older oil wells, to get more oil without the need to drill new ones, Clift said.

“It’s a win-win situation,” said Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, a co-sponsor of the bill. “It will reduce carbon dioxide emissions while generating more oil.”

Not everyone  supports the measure. Mike Berkowitz, the legislative policy director of the Sierra Club’s Michigan Chapter, said his group opposes the bill.

“We believe the environmental benefit of this legislation is negligible,” Berkowitz said, “We should be spending money on clean energy.”

Berkowitz also said that the oil produced is going to be burned and release more harmful chemicals into the environment.  For the same reason, his group opposes tax breaks the legislation will give to private oil companies.

“When the amount of oil in a well is reduced to a certain level over time, it falls into a different class. That is why the companies get tax breaks on fields that have been capped,” Clift said.

The bill has bipartisan support. It is in the House Energy and Technology Committee.

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