By Jonathan Gallardo
Gillette News Record
Via Wyoming News Exchange
GILLETTE — Fred McLaughlin stood at the Dry Fork Station power plant Wednesday morning holding some rocks in his hands.
They weren’t ordinary rocks. The rocks hadn’t seen sunlight “since dinosaurs were walking around,” said the senior geologist and project manager for the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources.
The rocks had been drilled up from thousands of feet below the Powder River Basin. Wednesday, the drill bit was more than 8,500 feet below ground.
It was part of an open house for the Wyoming CarbonSAFE project, which is studying the underground geology near the Dry Fork Station power plant north of Gillette to see whether it would be a good place to store carbon dioxide.
The project is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Storage Assurance Facility Enterprise initiative, or CarbonSAFE, which focuses on the development of geologic sites for the storage of 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from industrial sources.
The project, which costs $12.25 million, is mostly funded by a $9.77 million grant from the Department of Energy.
Scott Quillinan, director of research at the School of Energy Resources, said he’s enjoyed working on the project.
“This is fantastic,” Quillinan said. “This is a fun project, just being able to work with the industry folks, the community here and the university on site, it’s just so cool being all together.”
The project is in its second phase, which addresses the feasibility of building a commercial storage complex that can hold at least 50 million metric tons of CO2.
Gillette and Campbell County have been great to work with, Quillinan said.
“It’s fabulous,” he said. “Like all small communities in Wyoming, they’re always welcoming and it just makes it a lot of fun.”
Quillinan said he expects the drilling to be complete by next week, and it will be followed by two weeks of land reclamation. McLaughlin said there were some challenges, such as drilling through bentonite, which he likened to “drilling through Silly Putty.”
Following the drilling, which is being done by Gillette-based Cyclone Drilling, researchers will look at the data gathered from hundreds of core samples to see if the area can store carbon dioxide. They should come up with a plan by this fall, Quillinan said.
There is funding in fiscal year 2020 for the third phase of projects, which would deal with site characterization. Quillinan said he hopes the project will make it on to the next round.
In addition to CarbonSAFE, the DOE is funding other carbon capture projects with the hopes that the two will come together one day.
“At some point, somewhere in the U.S., there will be a carbon storage complex that is paired with a carbon capture project, and they’ll come together sometime in 2025 and make a full commercial project,” Quillinan said. “If it can’t happen here, it’s probably not going to happen anywhere.”