The exploration of the rock formations deep under Spiritwood Township could bring a boost to the operations of Dakota Spirit AgEnergy, according to Adam Dunlop, director of regulation and technical services for Midwest AgEnergy, parent company of Dakota Spirit.

Midwest AgEnergy was granted $324,000 by the North Dakota Industrial Commission toward a $630,000 study to determine if storing carbon dioxide deep underground below Stutsman and Barnes counties is feasible. Midwest AgEnergy will contract for the testing process.

"This is the single biggest thing we can do to improve the value of our fuel," Dunlop said. "Reducing the carbon intensity of ethanol makes it more attractive to areas looking for low carbon fuels."

The study will use seismography to study the rock formations about 3,000 feet below the surface. What they are looking for is a large area of porous rock that will hold the carbon dioxide capped with nonporous rock that will prevent it from escaping upward. Regulations also require CO2 be stored in rock formations in areas that could not contaminate usable water.

The test work is done with large trucks that lower a heavy plate to the ground that is used to introduce vibrations to the earth. These vibrations are recorded by sensors at ground level. That information is then used to identify the type of rock formations underground.

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In this case, the study will explore the Deadwood Formation that is about 3,000 feet below the surface.

Dunlop said the testing will be done along 20-mile lines east and west, and north and south, from Spiritwood. Approval of the testing is still pending with the North Dakota Industrial Commission.

"If we stay on an aggressive schedule, we could start collecting data in early September," he said. "We are looking for faults and hazards that would prohibit storage of carbon dioxide."

If the study proves that the formation would hold carbon dioxide, it would reduce or eliminate the 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide emitted by Dakota Spirit AgEnergy each year. The 200,000 tons of carbon dioxide is equivalent to the CO2 produced by about 44,000 cars in a year of average driving.

"We would capture the CO2," Dunlop said. "Turn it into a liquid and then pump it into the ground if we can safely do that."

Dunlop said the seismic testing process is common in western North Dakota where it has been used to identify possible oil reserves for decades.

"There is not a lot of exploration with seismic data in the eastern part of the state," he said.

Dunlop said the results would be furnished to the North Dakota Industrial Commission and could result in additional exploration for suitable carbon dioxide storage sites in the region.