Seismic testing to determine the feasibility of carbon capture and storage in the Spiritwood area could wrap up this week, according to Adam Dunlop, director of regulation and technical services for Midwest AgEnergy, parent company of Dakota Spirit AgEnergy. Dakota Spirit is a fuel ethanol facility located at Spiritwood.

Carbon capture and storage involve capturing carbon dioxide that would be vented to the atmosphere and storing it underground. Carbon dioxide is considered by some a greenhouse gas and pollutant to the atmosphere.

"It started last Monday," Dunlop said, referring to the seismic testing. "We had a couple of days setting up and a couple of days of weather. If we don't have any mechanical or weather issues, we could be done by Friday."

Anyone traveling through the Spiritwood area for the last week may have seen the equipment used for the seismic testing. Large machines resembling construction equipment are moving across the landscape. Every 288 feet, the equipment stops, lowers a metal plate to the ground and sends vibrations into the earth for about one minute.

Those vibrations bounce off the rock thousands of feet below. The reflected vibrations are picked up by geophones, small devices that measure and record the vibrations, placed on the surface. The testing calls for placing 200 geophones every mile.

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"The east-west line is done," Dunlop said, describing the two lines of testing intersecting near Spiritwood. "We are working the north-south line now."

As each section of testing is complete, the geophones are collected and returned to bases where batteries are recharged and the data collected is uploaded for analysis.

Dunlop said the initial raw data resembles a medical sonogram because the technology is based on the same principles although the equipment is much larger and vibrations stronger.

"Initially, there is not a lot you can see," he said. "When they combine all the readings, geophysicists can interpret all the squiggly lines as rock formations."

If the rock formations look promising, it could lead to further seismic testing and core samples to actually look at the rock thousands of feet below the surface.

If that testing confirms the viability of storing carbon below Spiritwood, a facility would have to be developed to process the carbon dioxide.

"To move forward, you would have to build a capture, compression and dehydration facility," Dunlop said.

The testing at Spiritwood comes at the same time the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources approved a carbon sequestration project for Red Trail Energy near Richardton, North Dakota. That project will sequester 180,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the Broom Creek Formation.

North Dakota and Wyoming are the only two states that have federal approval to authorize carbon sequestration projects within their states. Similar projects in other states would require the approval of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"People are trying to understand what the opportunities for this are," Dunlop said.