About Carbon Capture

Carbon capture was first deployed at commercial scale in 1972, when CO2 was captured from natural gas processing and used for enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) in west Texas. In a largely unheralded example of American innovation, U.S. industry has led the world over nearly a half century in successfully demonstrating large-scale carbon capture across a range of industries, including natural gas processing, fertilizer production, coal gasification, ethanol fermentation, refinery hydrogen production and coal-fired power generation.

To date, captured CO2 has been primarily used in EOR, producing additional domestic oil from existing, already-developed fields, while geologically storing the CO2 safely and permanently in the process. Expanding carbon capture at industrial facilities and power plants will enable further CO2-EOR, but also other forms of geologic storage and the beneficial use of CO2 as a feedstock in producing fuels, chemicals and products.

Carbon capture provides multiple benefits:

• Extends domestic oil production through CO2-EOR, while strengthening America’s national security and reducing trade deficits by further lessening our reliance on imported crude;
• Achieves significant CO2 emissions reductions from oil, natural gas, coal, and ethanol and from key industrial processes essential to modern society;
• Protects and creates good-paying and highly-skilled energy, industrial, manufacturing, construction and services jobs across the value chain from carbon capture to pipeline transport to CO2 utilization and storage; and
• Spurs innovation and investment in developing new uses of captured CO2, transforming it into an economic resource.

In short, carbon capture supports domestic energy production and our nation’s energy and industrial jobs base and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency, is vital to meeting mid-century goals for reducing carbon emissions.

To realize these energy, economic and environmental benefits, the Carbon Capture Coalition advocates for federal and state incentives and other policies to scale up economy-wide deployment of carbon capture from industrial facilities and power plants, COpipeline infrastructure, and EOR and other utilization and storage options.

How Does CO2-EOR Work?

How Carbon Capture Works Graphic

By injecting CO2 into already developed oil fields it mixes with and “releases” the oil from the formation, thereby freeing it to move to production wells. CO2 that emerges with the oil is separated in above-ground facilities and re-injected into the formation. CO2-EOR projects resemble a closed-loop system where the CO2 is injected, produces oil, and ultimately remains stored in the formation.

Today, most of the CO2 used in EOR operations comes from natural underground domes. With the natural supply of CO2 limited, man-made CO2 from the captured CO2 emissions of power plants and industrial facilities can be used to boost oil production through EOR. Once CO2 is captured from these facilities, it is compressed and transported by pipeline to oil fields.

Primary Production

Primary production refers to a new oil field discovery where production wells are drilled into a geological formation and oil or gas is produced using the pent-up energy of the fluids in the reservoir. At the end of primary production a considerable amount of the oil remains in place, with sometimes as much as 80-90 percent still “trapped” in the pore spaces of the reservoir. (Melzer, 2012)

Secondary Production

If an oil field is not abandoned after primary production, it moves into a secondary production phase wherein a substance (usually water) is injected to repressurize the formation. New injection wells are drilled or converted from producing wells, and the injected fluid sweeps oil to the remaining producing wells. Secondary production could yield up to an equal or greater amount of oil from primary production. But this has the potential to ultimately leave 50-70 percent of the original oil remaining in the reservoir since much of the oil is bypassed by the water that does not mix with the oil. (Melzer, 2012) Primary and secondary production are sometimes referred to as “conventional” oil production practices. (Melzer, 2012)

Tertiary Production

During tertiary production, oil field operators inject CO2 to react with the oil to change its properties and allow it to flow more freely within the reservoir. Almost pure CO2 (>95 percent of the overall composition) has the property of mixing with oil to swell it, make it lighter, detach it from the rock surfaces, and cause the oil to flow more freely within the reservoir to producer wells. In a closed loop system, CO2 mixed with recovered oil is separated in above-ground equipment for reinjection. CO2-EOR typically produces between 4-15 percent of the original oil in place. (ARI, 2010)


  • Advanced Resources International (ARI), Improving Domestic Energy Security and Lowering CO2 Emissions with “Next Generation” CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2-EOR), June 20, 2011, DOE/NETL-2011/1504.
  • Melzer, L. S. (2012). Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2-EOR): Factors Involved in Adding Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) to Enhanced Oil Recovery.