Researchers at the Energy and Environmental Research Center will study ways carbon dioxide can help with oil extraction thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The nearly $3.5 million grant will allow the EERC at UND to establish a field laboratory in the South Central Cut Bank oil field in north central Montana to test the geological storage of carbon dioxide, with the goal of advancing similar storage in the Williston Basin.

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The EERC was one of two recipients of $7 million in federal funding for associated carbon dioxide geological storage research and development.

The research center has about a dozen projects they are working on surrounding the topic of environmentally stable energy production. The EERC has been studying carbon dioxide storage for years as well, Ed Steadman, vice president for research at the facility, said Tuesday.

"It fits in with our larger vision of linking our resources together," said Charles Gorecki, director of subsurface research and development at the EERC.

Linking resources, like North Dakota's lignite coal industry, is important, Gorecki said. Effectively, coal-fired power plants would produce power, the carbon dioxide which typically is released into the atmosphere could be captured and then transported via pipeline to oil fields to help with oil extraction.

"It creates jobs, it creates tax revenue," Gorecki said. "It would utilize our resources in the most environmentally friendly and sustainable way. It's a good thing as a whole for our nation and our state."

Capturing carbon dioxide can be more costly for coal-fired power plants though as the plants have to be able to concentrate the CO2, which is very energy intensive, Gorecki said.

The project also could work with Red Trail Energy's ethanol plant in Richardton, N.D. The facility previously has proposed injecting carbon dioxide into a deep underground storage well rather than emit it into the atmosphere.

The project could bring a better price for the plant's ethanol by opening it up to more markets.

For now, the company is looking at just storing the carbon dioxide deep underground, but they could choose to look at using it for enhanced oil recovery as well, Gorecki said.

Capturing carbon dioxide and using it for enhanced oil recovery could have many economic benefits as well, he said. The Bakken Formation in west North Dakota is producing more than a million barrels of oil a day with current technology, but Gorecki said that's just a "tiny fraction" of the oil in North Dakota.

There may be a 500 billion or a trillion barrels barrels of oil in the Bakken, Gorecki said. New technology could allow the state to produce billions of barrels of oil, but the state also doesn't have enough carbon dioxide.

"The big economic benefit for a state like North Dakota would be that we can still mine our lignite, create power with our lignite, capture the carbon dioxide (and) use that carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery, (which could boost) our oil production out of wells we've already drilled," he said. "At the end, we have power that has lower carbon. We have oil that has lower carbon, and along the way, we have more jobs and we've also created a lot of tax revenue for the state."

The technology could allow companies to use a greenhouse gas that is typically emitted into the atmosphere and use it as a resource instead, Steadman said.

"Everybody wins," he said. "The economy wins, the environment wins. It's really a positive of the state."

This fall would be the earliest research in Montana would begin, Gorecki said. The project is a three-year effort, but much of the field work would be done within the first year.