UT Bureau of Economic Geology

Carbon emissions are about to have a rocky future, thanks to a $4 million grant to UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The grant was given to the bureau, which is part of UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences, to lead a regional partnership to research how carbon dioxide emissions can be safely stored in rock formations under the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is the type of science that aims at tackling big issues by bringing government, industry, community stakeholders and academia together to create innovative solutions … ,” Bureau director Scott Tinker said in a press release.

This process will involve capturing the carbon dioxide emissions, transporting them offshore and pumping the emissions into geologic formations deep beneath the floor of the Gulf.

“Right now, when we take fossil fuels out and bring them to the surface … and combust them we transfer the carbon from the earth and put it into the atmosphere,” said Susan Hovorka, a principal investigator for the research. “There are risks with this.”

The goal of this research is to create a long-term storage solution for emissions from carbon dioxide.

“We believe there is a solution for addressing atmospheric emissions that also promotes economic growth,” said Timothy Meckel, a principal investigator for the research. “We would like to demonstrate that we could utilize offshore geology for addressing national atmospheric emission issues as well as state and local issues.”

The grant will fund a four-year partnership led by the Bureau’s Gulf Coast Carbon Center.

Some partners include researchers from UT’s Institute for Geophysics, the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum Geosystems and Engineering, Lamar University and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We have a very good team,” Hovorka said. “It’s a partnership. It’s not just about UT — it’s about the strength of our partners. We (also) have a strong track record and very good technical skills.”

The Bureau is also working with the Texas General Land Office, which oversees areas in the Gulf that are suitable for carbon dioxide emissions storage. Revenue from these areas goes to the Permanent School Fund, which supports primary education in Texas.

“If we can use state offshore lands for carbon dioxide storage, we might be able to find a way to increase the amount of income for the Permanent School Fund and therefore support some of the primary education in the state of Texas,” Meckel said.

UT Bureau of Economic Geology director Scott Tinker drew nearly 300 people to a lecture on global energy consumption and usage.

Tinker’s lecture at the Blanton Museum of Art on Wednesday could appear on film as part of a documentary on the present and future state of energy consumption. The Arco Films production team has been working with Tinker on the 90-minute film since early 2009.

“I have two college-aged kids, and they’re always sending me videos on YouTube,” Tinker said. “So you could say that’s kind of how the idea
took root.”

Putting together a video to showcase this research was also a way for Tinker to get information to a broader audience and a bigger demographic.
“We wanted to show what the future of energy would be in a realistic world, not an ideal one,” said film producer and director Harry Lynch.

Lynch’s team shot more than 500 hours of footage throughout 10 different countries for the movie, which aims to show the viewer unfamiliar aspects of the energy production process. For example, many people are unaware of the high costs that go into creating and distributing energy, Tinker said.

“We’re really spoiled in how cheap energy is, whether it’s the cost of electricity or the amount of money that we spend on a gallon of gas,” he said. “We get excited when a gallon of gas turns to $4, but there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into bringing that gas from underground to
the consumer.”

Geology senior Michael Nieto attended the talk and said he agrees with the idea that the general public needs more education about
energy conservation.

“People in general don’t really take into consideration the effects of using day-to-day technologies,” Nieto said. “It would be good for students to see this video because it’s good to be more aware about how your life affects the environment.”

The public should be able to view the documentary, which will accompany a large website, later this year.

“We’ve actually screened a rough cut of the movie and had an original score written,” said Tinker. “We hope to be finished in May, when we’ll take the finished product to a distributor. Hopefully, you’ll see it as a feature length film on HBO and then on the DVD markets.”