On January 19, 2021, the Bureau of Land Management approved a major pipeline project proposed for Wyoming, by designating about 1,100 miles of federal land for potential pipeline development in the future. The initiative aims to expand the state’s pipeline infrastructure and help energy companies transport carbon dioxide and other products for use in oil and gas development.
Known as the Wyoming Pipeline Corridor Initiative, the proposal identified key routes across the state for future pipelines to opportunistically connect oil field sites with sources of carbon dioxide needed for enhanced oil recovery and other energy projects. Leaders of the project hope clearing this initial regulatory hurdle could help Wyoming in its race to commercialize carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technology too.
“The signing of this Record of Decision is an important piece of the puzzle as Wyoming continues to be a trailblazer on the path to establish a carbon capture facility,” Gov. Mark Gordon told the Star-Tribune in a statement. “The ability to have a CO2 delivery system, as made possible by the pipeline corridor initiative, helps make CO2 commercially viable.”
Over the past several years, the federal government has been conducting a massive environmental review of the BLM-managed land along the 1,970 mile route, attempting to locate any wildlife, resource or cultural conflicts along the way.
The BLM published the final environmental impact statement based on that review on Oct. 28 and opened up the analysis to public comment.
The BLM’s review identified its “preferred alternative” as one that would amend nine resource management plans in order to designate new 200- to 300-foot wide corridors across 1,111 acres of federal land for “carbon dioxide, enhanced oil recovery products or other compatible uses.”
Carbon dioxide can be injected into reservoirs to remove oil that traditional drilling processes did not extract in a process known as enhanced oil recovery. But companies need to be able to access carbon dioxide affordably. Some of the state’s energy leaders envision the pipelines being used beyond enhanced oil recovery.
“The Wyoming Pipeline Corridor Initiative is a classic example of Wyoming’s proactiveness and political leadership with respect to energy resources,” said Glen Murrell, executive director for the Wyoming Energy Authority. “The approval of the project will be particularly helpful in overcoming barriers both perceived and real in the energy space.”
In addition to helping operators build pipelines to transport CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, the designated corridors could also boost the state’s effort to expand the use of saline aquifer sequestration, direct air capture or even facilitate the use of hydrogen in an “all-of-the-above” energy mix, Murrell explained. Pipelines for oil and natural gas, or broadband infrastructure, could also be potential candidates for certain segments of the corridors, he added.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the record of decision on Friday, just days before the Trump administration left the White House. The stamp of approval gives the green light to companies to begin submitting specific proposals for pipeline construction along the designated route.
According to the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, streamlining the approval processes for future pipelines will not only help advance carbon capture projects on federal land, but it will also expand opportunities for enhanced oil recovery in legacy fields. Those projects in turn could generate substantial revenue for the state.
The pipeline initiative has been a dream for Wyoming leaders for a long time. Former Gov. Matt Mead started pursuing it around 2010, according to Fry, the project’s manager. The Wyoming Legislature appropriated $2 million for the project in 2012. The state then submitted an application to the BLM in 2014.
By approving nearly 2,000 miles for possible pipelines on private, state and federal land, Wyoming could expedite the review process for future construction projects, the state reasoned. For Fry, receiving the record of the decision this month was a big deal.
“When you get a record decision — whether you’re a company or the state — you never get exactly what you want out, but I feel pretty comfortable that what we got was close enough to what we proposed,” Fry said. “It’s a workable product in the end, and hopefully, we can we can put it to use.”
Though the announcement that the project has received BLM approval is significant for the state, the federal endorsement of the proposal does not necessarily mean pipeline construction will begin immediately.
Companies hoping to build a pipeline within the approved corridor will still need to undergo additional environmental reviews and secure permitting. What’s more, volatile energy markets leave the exact outcome of the project unknown.