A Gillette-based Cyclone Drilling rig paves the way for a project exploring feasibility of underground carbon storage in the Powder River Basin. Jennifer Kocher photo

GILETTE – University of Wyoming researchers are roughly one-quarter of the way through phase two of their exploratory study into the feasibility of underground carbon storage in the Powder River Basin, according to Scott Quillinan, director of research with the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources.

Drilling at the site near Basin Electric Power Cooperative’s Dry Fork Station began in early April to determine the suitability of the underground geological formations for commercial-scale carbon dioxide storage as part of the Wyoming CarbonSAFEinitiative. The initiative is being led by the university and its partners to test the feasibility of storing 50 million metric tons of CO2 in secure saline reservoirs underground near the 385-megawatt Dry Fork Station.

The two-year project is funded by a $9.77 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, and its partners, UW, Basin Electric, Wyoming Municipal Power Association, Advanced Resources International Inc., Schlumberger, CarbonGeoCycle Inc., and the Energy and Environmental Research Center.

After spending two days on site, Quillinan was “nerding out” over the team’s collection of 30 feet of Cretaceous-age Mowry out of the Muddy Formation in the northern Powder River Basin as he drove back to Laramie the night of April 26 .

For a “rock guy” like Quillinan, the find was exciting. Mowry is a laterally continuous regional seal that it is full of fossilized fish scales. In layman’s terms, the find marked breaking the seal to collect core in the first of four reservoirs.

“In total, we will collect approximately 840 feet of core from four reservoir and seal pairs,” Quilllinan said, including the Muddy, Lakota and Dakota, and Muddy and Minnelusa formations. “The Muddy is the first, and we have collected about 100 feet so far.”

Over the course of 30 days, the well will be drilled to a depth of 10,200 feet below the land surface. Later this year, the team will conduct a 3D seismic survey of the 12.5-square-mile area, according to a UW news release.

“We will be investigating strata that is typically deeper than other wells have been drilled in this area,” Quillinan said. “Most oil and gas wells in this area have not drilled past the very top sandstone member of the Minnelusa formation. We are planning to drill and core three of the Minnelusa sandstone members.”

So far, Quillinan said the project is on schedule, with no issues or delays.

“We have a highly qualified team to conduct the study, and I feel confident that the scope of the project will be successful,” he said. “The great thing about science is we just don’t know the outcome until we have a chance to analyze and interpret the data.”

Along with other project sites, the Dry Fork Station project is part of a larger effort to integrate carbon capture and storage complex to be constructed and permitted for operation around 2025.

The Powder River Basin produces about 40% of all coal consumed in the United States and is also home to existing CO2 pipelines for oil and gas operations, including fields suitable for use of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery.

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