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NMT and Bureau collaborate on CarbonSAFE initiative

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San Juan County, NM
— June 9, 2020

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) is receiving approximately $17.5 million of U.S. Department of Energy funding and additional $4.5 million cost share to study a geological storage complex located in northwest New Mexico.

Awarded through the Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise (CarbonSAFE) initiative, the work will complete the detailed site characterization and CO2 capture assessment needed to obtain permitting for a planned integrated carbon capture and storage program at the San Juan Generating Station, an 847 megawatt coal-fired electricity generation plant located near Farmington, New Mexico.

“It is exciting for me personally and for the team to successfully secure this funding,” said Dr. William Ampomah, a Research Engineer/Section Head at the Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC) at NMT and lead principal investigator. “It’s great news for the team to work and contribute to the sustainability of the San Juan Generating Station.”

The data and analyses produced under the agreement will be used to prepare, submit and attain a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency to potentially construct a Class VI well (CO2 injection well), that would allow for geologic sequestration of 50 million metric tons of CO2 at a site near the power plant.

The CarbonSAFE program’s goal is to accelerate commercial-scale use of carbon capture and storage technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere from industrial and power generation sources such as this power plant.

Scientists at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology will work with the team to drill a stratigraphic test hole to determine the capacity of the potential reservoirs and the integrity of the sealing units above and below the rock unit targeted for carbon sequestration. The Bureau scientists involved are Senior Geophysicist and Field Geologist Dr. Shari Kelley, Adjunct Associate Research Professor of Geology Dr. Dana Ulmer-Scholle, and Petroleum Geologists Luke Martin and Joseph Grigg.

“By developing a regional framework prior to drilling, it will provide initial information on the extent of the various CO2 seals and potential reservoirs, depths to the tops of these units, and develop depositional models and trends that might help others on the project develop accurate models for carbon capture and sequestration,” said Ulmer-Scholle.

“The success of this application was largely dependent on past work and analyses performed at New Mexico Tech,” said project director Dr. Robert Balch of the PRRC. “This background allowed the project to start at Phase III, due to existing knowledge about the potential storage site. New Mexico Tech is proud to have formed a New Mexico centric team including the University, the Petroleum Recovery Research Center, the New Mexico Bureau of Geology, and both of our state’s National Labs.”

Indeed, the project not only builds on previous work at NMT and at the Bureau of Geology, but benefits from extensive industry support.

“The award was very competitive considering we were coming late in the game,” said Ampomah. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the supporting letters we received from many local entities in the San Juan area and industrial partners such as Enchant Energy, Hilcorp Energy, and Robert L. Bayless, Producer LLC. As the lead Principal Investigator of the project, I would like to express sincere gratitude to everyone who supported us on this application.”

The grant was awarded under the Department of Energy Funding Opportunity Announcement, DE- FOA-0001999. The title of the grant application is "San Juan Basin CarbonSAFE Phase III: Ensuring Safe Subsurface Storage of CO2 in Saline Reservoirs." The Project Director is Dr. Robert Balch, Director of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center at New Mexico Tech and Dr. William Ampomah of New Mexico Tech’s Petroleum Recovery Research Center is the project’s lead investigator. Co-principal investigators on the project are Prof. Brian McPherson of the University of Utah, Mr. Jason Selch CEO of Enchant Energy LLC, Dr. Nelia Dunbar, Director of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, and Mr. George El-kaseeh of New Mexico Tech’s Petroleum Recovery Research Center. Additional collaborating organizations include the University of New Mexico, the University of Wyoming, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Sandia National Laboratories (SNL), Hilcorp Energy, Schlumberger, and Robert L. Bayless, Producer LLC.

Details of the five DOE agreements are available here.