For Energy, There's No Place Like Home

By Thomas Donohue

For decades, the concept of energy self-reliance in America has been little more than a political talking point and a pipe dream.

But owing to a range of new technologies across the energy industries and America's vast natural resource base, it no longer seems so far-fetched. Innovation has made abundant quantities of shale oil and natural gas recoverable, and this influx of energy is helping fuel our economy. Clean coal technology can help us burn our most abundant and affordable domestic energy resource more cleanly while supporting thousands of American jobs.

But clean coal technology and the hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that are driving the shale boom aren't the only potentially transformational technologies we have. New techniques to produce crude oil from mature oil fields that were experimental just a decade ago are unlocking vast new supplies.

Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) is rapidly gaining ground as a promising way to reinvigorate America's aging oil fields to unlock significant amounts of "stranded" oil. The potential is enormous. There is an estimated 67 billion to 137 billion barrels of recoverable oil from known oil fields within our shores accessible with advanced EOR. That's billion with a "b"-and it represents at least twice today's current U.S. proved oil reserves.

The technique used to capture this trapped oil is a decades-old process, started in West Texas in the 1970s, that injects pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) into the oil-bearing rock formation to loosen and vacate viscous oil that's difficult to recover using conventional methods. CO2 is a common chemical compound used for everything from food production to medical applications.

EOR development is emerging as an increasingly promising way to add new value to old oil fields that saw their heyday decades ago, especially when innovation is applied to tried and tested techniques. The U.S. EOR industry has historically used natural CO2 produced from deep in the Earth. But to advance this technology and to expand U.S. EOR production, we are increasingly utilizing man-made CO2 that is produced as part of a variety of industrial processes.

The technique also bears environmental benefits because it uses captured CO2 that otherwise could be released into the atmosphere, permanently trapping it in the Earth, all the while enabling significant new oil production. Four decades of safe and secure CO2 utilization make this an industry that U.S. policymakers should encourage and expand.

Why is it important to extract oil that's difficult to recover from existing fields? Because every barrel of oil we recover is a barrel we don't have to import from unfriendly and unstable places. Because every barrel we can produce at home increases our self-reliance and creates jobs and growth here.

In order to move forward with EOR, we need to ensure that those that are closest to it-the states-are allowed to maintain their lead in regulating it. Due to geographic differences, states are better positioned than the federal government to protect their own resources and to write economically and technologically feasible regulations.

When it comes to energy self-reliance, there's no place like home. But if we want that to be a reality, and not just a political fantasy, we must be smart stewards of our resources and expand and advance the technologies that will enable us to develop them.

Mr. Donohue is President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

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