This post was written by CATF's Senior Geologist Bruce Hill and originally appeared in CATF's Ahead of the Curve.
How common are measurable earthquakes in association with oilfield operations? The answer is: exceedingly rare. Nevertheless, another scientific paper has raised the possibility of seismic events occurring as a result of injection of CO2 to stimulate new oil production from depleted oil fields. Since this process, known as enhanced oil recovery (EOR), is a vital component of making carbon capture and storage (CCS) economically viable as a means of addressing global climate change, we must take a close look at the facts. So here’s what we know:
On November 4, the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences (PNAS) released a paper on seismicity that may have been
induced by injections of gases in a West Texas oilfield. The oilfield studied,
near Snyder Texas, has been subject to injection-related production stimulation
since 1957. In the present study, authors report minor seismicity
recorded between 2006 and 2011 with 18 earthquakes. Of the 18 recorded events,
17 were Richter magnitude 3 (associated with barely or unnoticeable ground
shaking) and one was a magnitude 4.3 (ground shaking capable of rattling dishes
but not significant harm). To put this in perspective, according to the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS),
worldwide there are an estimated 1.3 million earthquakes between magnitude of
2.0 and 2.9, 130,000 earthquakes between 3.0 and 3.9 and 13,000 earthquakes
between magnitudes 4.0 and 5.0 annually. None of the seismicity halted
injection; instead the operators paid extra attention to optimizing the
The study further points out that in the adjacent and well-known SACROC field– in the same town of Snyder, Texas that has been undergoing CO2 flooding for 40 years– that there has been no induced seismicity. In fact, CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR) was born in these fields, having been in operation since 1971. Since then, over four decades of experience of CO2 management with approximately one billion metric tons of CO2 injected over that period in tens of thousands of wells has produced one and a half billion barrels of oil. But, only three known earthquakes greater than 4.0 magnitude have been recorded during oilfield water flooding, and none known to be associated with CO2 flooding, according to the complete review of seismic events associated with energy technology in the United States published by The National Academy of Sciences (NAS, 2012).
It is well known that tiny earthquakes – those that impart an energy release at a depth of a kilometer similar to dropping a gallon of milk on the floor – can be associated with tiny cracks that may form to accommodate fluids injected into the pores of rocks. Such seismicity (known as microseismicity) is only measurable with extremely sensitive instruments, and do not represent precursors to major events nor do they signal movement on known or unknown faults. In fact, in EOR, operators take pains to ensure that rocks are not over pressured and inadvertently fracked because fractures allow CO2 to circumvent the oil-filled pores rather than to sweep the oil out. In fact, fracking is avoided in EOR and carbon storage because it will severely reduce the effectiveness of the spread of CO2 through the formation pores. Instead, EOR takes place in a pressure-depleted reservoir and rebuilds pressure towards minimum miscibility-the point at which CO2 mixes with the oil to most effectively move it out of the rock. This process takes place well below the rock fracture point. In a carbon storage regime, operators will focus on “concurrent storage”, that is, normal operations with added monitoring and accounting–related surveillance. If operators desire to undertake storage alone, then, under current rules, they must operate EPA’s Underground Injection Control Rule that requires remaining well below the frac pressure at 90% of the rock strength.
CO2 injection operations are commonplace in the US. Today 4,000 miles of CO2 pipelines connect to 127 projects producing over 100 million barrels of oil annually utilizing 57 million metric tons of CO2. Furthermore, there are over 100,000 wells undergoing water flooding today and another 13,000 wells undergoing CO2 flooding. After decades of operations, wastewater disposal has also been associated with only eight events that have been actually felt by nearby residents, none of which have been associated with significant damage. Moreover, over 4 billion tons of fluids are injected into the subsurface in over 30,000 wells every year in the United States and minor induced seismicity is limited to a few fields. While the experience with CO2 injection for carbon storage projects is small, according to the 2012 NAS study, there are no known historically felt events and none with a magnitude of 2.0 or greater. Why is this? Storage of CO2 in oilfields is accompanied typically by production of water, hydrocarbons and CO2 resulting in a balancing of subsurface pressure. In fact “stacked storage” in oil and gas field using associated brine formations, may prove advantageous in a number of ways including the opportunity for pressure management by fluid production.
Induced seismicity associated with oil and gas operations continues to be an issue of interest to policymakers, though, following a 2012 paper by Stanford researchers Mark Zoback and Steve Gorelick relative to future ability of deep subsurface geologic formations to accept and contain large volumes of injected CO2 captured from power plants. However, MIT researchers Ruben Juanez, Brad Hagar and Howard Herzog penned a PNAS rebuttal to that study pointing out that earthquakes largely occur in crystalline “basement” rocks that lie beneath the many thousands of feet of sedimentary reservoir rocks where oil and gas deposits occur, or where CO2 might be stored. Injections into those sedimentary rocks are very unlikely to trigger an earthquake in the underlying crystalline basement rocks. CATF has also addressed that study on our own website.
How do we avoid causing earthquakes? Despite the vanishingly small risk of damaging earthquakes with CO2 injections, careful site selection, risk analysis, constant surveillance and injection management must be essential components of healthy geologic carbon storage projects, particularly in seismically active areas. Carbon storage sites should be carefully screened, and those posing high seismic (or other) risk should be avoided or management systems employed. Monitoring of CO2 injections should include pressure management and tracking of subsurface CO2 plumes relative to geologic structures.
So, the recent PNAS paper provides further understanding of into seismicity associated with subsurface injection of CO2, but it is important to note that in the paper, the authors correctly put their results in perspective, stating: “The fact that no other gas injection sites have reported earthquakes with magnitudes as large as 3, suggests that despite Zoback and Gorelick’s (2012) concerns it is possible that in many locations large volume CO2 injection may not induce earthquakes.”
This post was written by David Hawkins, NRDC Director
of Climate Programs, and originally appeared on GCCSI's Insights.
I came away from the Global CCS Institute’s eighth annual Members' meeting in Seoul earlier this month with a feeling of frustration that I sense many attendees shared. Though I suspect the reasons for my frustration may differ from many of the other attendees.
At the meeting, there was much discussion of the
sluggish pace of carbon capture and storage (CCS) deployment and the modest
level of government support for CCS – a level most participants believe is well
below what is needed to get more of the first commercial round of CCS projects
financed and built.
There was little in the way of assessment of the reasons for this state of affairs and this is what has been on my mind since the meeting. In my view, the general lack of support, both political and financial, for CCS can be tied to two large factors: the attitude of most governments and industries regarding the need for serious, near-term action to abate climate-disrupting emissions – an attitude which is a mixture of lip service, indifference, and outright hostility; and the attitude of most environmental organisations toward CCS – a mixture of vocal support from a few and indifference and outright hostility from many.
This piece is to suggest what I think industry leaders can and must do to help change the situation.
First, industry leaders need to decide it is time to go all in on the matter of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation policies. The truth is that most governments will never provide the level of support that pioneer CCS efforts need and most businesses will never spend the private capital required until the world’s biggest emitting countries embrace serious mitigation efforts. Industry’s stance on this matter is critical. Without active support for serious policies from business, governments will continue as they have for too long, with tentative, toe-in-the water programs that fail to provide the policy framework to make CCS viable as a meaningful part of a strategy.
Many business people of good faith have hesitated to organise a serious advocacy effort for GHG mitigation because they fear the policies that may be adopted will harm their business interests. This stance, while understandable, ignores the growing reality that ignoring climate disruption poses even greater risks to business interests, especially in the energy area.
Many in the fossil fuel sector say they want technologies like CCS to be perfected before they can endorse policies that would make such technologies a rational best practice. But this creates a chicken and egg dilemma, where hesitation on the policy front creates hesitation on deployment of technologies like CCS. In my view, if business waits until political pressures to deal with climate disruption are so enormous that governments are forced to respond, the policy chicken that emerges is not likely to be designed to lay many CCS eggs. If there has been no meaningful political constituency developed for CCS, why would one expect policymakers to prioritise CCS when they respond to demands for action?
Which brings me to the second big problem that business needs to confront more effectively: the fact that the core constituency for action to protect the climate – environmentalists, clean energy advocates, progressives – are mostly either lukewarm or hostile to CCS. This is not a new point; it is one I have made repeatedly to business audiences going on 15 years now.
Part of the reason for the persistent hostility from the "green" community is their view (mostly accurate) of the fossil fuel sector's position on climate protection. Given the mixture of opposition and hesitation to emission abatement policies from this sector, the view of the "green" community is that CCS is not really a tool to enable serious emission cuts but is rather the premise for an argument to delay adoption of climate protection policies. A cursory Google search will produce far too many examples of fossil fuel spokespersons arguing that policy change must await the further development of CCS, a development that seems always to be a decade or more in the future.
In the US, we are witnessing the latest example of the "CCS yes, but not yet" syndrome. In response to the US Environment Protection Agency's (EPA) proposal to base emission limits for new coal plants on partial CCS, most in industry are declaring that this move means the death of coal and are busy creating a record of claims that CCS is just not ready.
US fossil fuel interests are at a crossroads with this rulemaking. If they persist in an effort to block the EPA"s rule by attempting to create a drumbeat that CCS is not an available technology, the result may be to further disenchant the green community and the public at large with the idea that CCS might be part of the climate protection solution set.
Another barrier to acceptance of CCS by the green community is the belief that if CCS is employed it will be at the expense of greater reliance on energy efficiency and renewables resources. Here again, I think there are things the proponents of CCS can do to reduce this conflict. (I am not suggesting there is nothing the green community can do to ease this conflict but the audience for this post is largely made up of CCS proponents.)
Part of the reason the green community sees CCS as a threat to efficiency and renewables is that CCS proponents often make the case for CCS by arguing that renewables are, and always will be, too expensive to get the job done. But this is not a proposition that many in the green community are going to accept as a given. Hence an argument that relies on this claim is not likely to be persuasive.
There are a couple of lines of argument for CCS that are more persuasive (to me at least). The first is a gap-closing argument. Why not examine the most ambitious scenarios of renewables penetration in the literature and calculate the cumulative emissions from fossil energy use and other GHG emissions while renewables are being brought to the requisite scale? Under any scenarios with which I am familiar, there will be a very large amount of cumulative emissions under the best of circumstances. Every tonne of that cumulative "residual" adds to the risk of serious climate disruption. If CCS could reduce that residual substantially, why wouldn’t one want to include it in the solution set?
This post was written by George Peridas of NRDC and originally appeared in NRDC Switchboard on Oct. 12, 2013.
The Global Carbon Capture & Storage Institute (GCCSI) just released its latest Global Status of CCS annual report, underscoring once again the important role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in a world where fossil fuels continue to supply the bulk of our energy needs and where drastic reductions in carbon pollution are urgently needed. It also summarizes the status of the technology, recent progress, and needed actions by decision makers to make CCS a meaningful climate mitigation strategy.
The report is very readable and self-explanatory, but a couple of points are worth bringing out since they can be counter-intuitive or surprising to some.
“CCS technology is well understood, and a reality”
Contrary to claims being made in reaction to U.S. EPA’s new Carbon Pollution Standard for new power plants that CCS is not yet commercially available, the GCCSI report underscores that “[i]n reality, the technology is generally well understood and has been used for decades at a large scale in certain applications.” More evidence is in the report itself and under Dan Lashof’s recent post here. Instead, GCCSI identifies that “[i]nsuffcient policy support is a key barrier”.
This is hardly surprising. In fact, we have been saying this for years now: Without a clear policy signal to the private sector and some government support for early projects, CCS technology will not achieve the scale of deployment needed to make a dent in tackling climate change. However, policy makers continue to get it wrong, with the most striking current example being Europe, as my environmental NGO colleagues outline here.
“More projects are entering operation and construction”
We should be buoyed by the Institute’s findings on the project front. Even though the market and policy pieces are not there yet for broad deployment, considerable and important progress is being made in capturing CO2 from large applications and injecting it underground. As recently as 2008, we routinely spoke of a handful or so of CCS flagship projects. Despite some project cancellations over the past year, which are normal events in the project development world, the number of operational and soon-to-be-operational CCS projects has grown significantly.
Since 2008, the number of large-scale integrated projects that are operating has doubled from six to twelve. Four commenced operation in 2013 alone, and three of these are in the U.S. Eight more projects are either under construction or about to begin, and are expected to become operational in 2014 and 2015. Several more are in the permitting or investment decision phase.
And the winner is…
North America. The Institute identifies the U.S. and Canada as the two countries where CCS pilot project development is most prolific at the moment (see p.36-37). The region is hosting several of these projects as a result of government support for the technology, opportunities to pursue enhanced oil recovery alongside the projects, and sufficient technical and regulatory know-how. Several projects have come online recently, and more will be doing so shortly, including power sector projects. These include the Kemper County IGCC (MS), Boundary Dam (SK), Air Products (TX), Coffeyville (KS), Lost Cabin (WY), Texas Clean Energy Project (TX), Alberta Trunkline (AB), Shell Quest (AB) and others (more details in the report). We should keep this in perspective though.
The commendable progress on these pilot plants should not be an excuse for us to take our eyes off the real goal. We are still a long way off the pace and scale of CCS development needed to curb carbon pollution in a meaningful way, and the Institute underscores this. Government funding alone will not achieve this – we need accompanying limits on emissions and emission performance standards such as those being contemplated by EPA right now.
What then should be the main take-away from the report? Unquestionably, that governments – not scientists or engineers – have the most work to do to make CCS a reality more broadly. Stakeholders have to help governments move faster. In the meantime however, let’s not overlook the significant progress that is being made by pilot and commercial-scale projects. The fleet is growing and field results continue to be positive. But we must move even faster to safeguard our atmosphere.
This post was written by Chris Smith, coordinator of the ENGO Network on CCS.
North America is a leader in the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage with seven of the world’s 12 operational large-scale integrated projects located in the United States and one in Canada, according to a new report released by the Global CCS Institute.
Even with these projects, “The
Global Status of CCS: 2013 Report” acknowledges that global momentum has been too
slow if CCS is to play a significant part in combating climate change at the
Chapter topics in the report include policy, legal and regulatory developments, the business case, and public engagement, which features the ENGO Network on CCS. This chapter includes a section called “Improving Communication and Collaboration” and states that environmental nongovernment organisations (ENGOs) “tend to be highly influential advocates because they are generally perceived as independent, credible, and motivated to act in the best interests of the public (Terwel et al., 2011). As such, it is in the best interests of ENGOs and CCS proponents to engage in an ongoing dialogue and find common goals in working toward the broader climate change mitigation objective.”
In a sidebar, ZERO's Camilla Svendsen Skriung explains our ENGO Network on CCS approach: “As would be expected, our organisations approached CCS with caution … after a long and careful study of the available science, we have concluded that CCS can be carried out safely and effectively, provided it is adequately regulated. Our conclusions are based on, and are backed by, an overwhelming consensus of the scientific literature and prominent research institutions.”
The Global CCS Institute released the report today at its annual international members’ meeting in Seoul, North Korea. ENGO Member David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council is attending the meeting and will write a blog summary from his perspective, so be sure to visit this site again soon.
This post was written by Ida Sofia Vaa, web journalist for ZERO, who writes about CCS-related topics for www.zeroco2.no. She has project management experience from higher education and research organisations in Norway and the U.S., from freelance writing and translations and the feminist radio station RadiOrakel in Oslo. She is currently located in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still viewed by some as only a theoretical solution to creating cleaner energy and industry, but the technology is already here and has been used for years. This is not rocket science; the technology is quite straightforward. Any engineer will tell you that CCS is basic knowledge within the scientific community. So the issue is not the lack of technology or experience, but the lack of commitment from policymakers to push for CCS in all industries using fossil fuels. The ENGO Network on CCS’s goal is to inform and influence decisions makers to make policies that support a more widespread use of CCS where it works best.
CCS has been around for decades. The first CCS project was established in Lubbock, Texas, in the early eighties This was the first gas plant with carbon dioxide (CO2) capture, selling CO2 for beverages and for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), and there have been several successful CCS projects around the world since then. In fact, oil companies have injected and geologically trapped more than a billion tons of CO2 over the last four decades. And as CCS is beginning to be applied to electricity generation, commercial vendors are now offering performance gauntness for carbon capture on power plants.
Canada is one of the leading countries when it comes to CCS, and the North American-based projects Great Plains Synfuels Plant (Dakota Gas) and Weyburn-Midale CO2 Project (Cenovus and Apache Energy), are some of the largest projects today. Synfuels began to capture carbon in 2000 to supply the Weyburn field with CO2 for EOR. Great Plains Synfuels plant uses a pre-combustion technique to capture 3 million tonnes of CO2 per year, and Weyburn-Midale stores up to 30 million tonnes of CO2.
Another large and successful project is the one in Shute Creek, Wyoming. The operation in Shute Creek started in 1996, and now captures 7 million tonnes of CO2 every year from natural gas. The CO2 is transported to several oil and gas refineries for EOR, especially to Salt Creek, which is the largest EOR project in the US.
Air Products in Port Arthur, Texas began carbon capture in 2011 and is a project that mitigates the CO2 emissions from an industrial application, in this case hydrogen. It is one of several examples of industry, like cement and steel too, taking care of its greenhouse gases (GHG) the only way possible, namely using CCS technology. This project captures 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year, and the CO2 is used for EOR projects.
There are two CCS power projects under construction that are slated to begin in 2014. SaskPower is retrofitting CCS onto its existing Boundary Dam plant,120MW unit that will capture 1 million tons per year. Southern Company is building a new power plant that will capture more than 2 million tons per year. Both projects are using EOR for storage.
Not all CO2 is can be used for EOR though, most of it has to be stored offshore or underground without being used at all. CO2 used for EOR has to be permanently stored at the end of operation as well. One of the largest storage projects outside North America is the Sleipner field off the coast of Norway. Statoil has captured CO2 since 1996 and stores it 800 meters under the seabed. The storage site has been continuously monitored for safety reasons, but also for researchers to learn how the CO2 behaves under pressure beneath the sea. The Sleipner field has stored more than 15 million tonnes of CO2 since startup.
The experience and knowledge gathered from these and other projects around the world only confirms that CCS is working, and it is working well.
Another pushback on CCS relates to cost. The technology is expensive to implement, and may add extra costs for the retailers who buy energy from fossil fuels. The cost depends on the type of emission, the capture technology used, the distance to the storage site, the qualities of the storage site, whether the emission source is built with capture from day one or capture is retrofitted to an existing emission source, and variable costs like prices on materials and availability of real estate. The greatest expense relates to its application to power and industrial sources that are at the beginning of the cost/experience curve. While the technology has been used on sources like natural as processing for decades, it has only recently begun to be used on sources such as power plants.
The cost decreases when the technology becomes more widespread and so will the energy loss. Building common infrastructures for storage that can be used by many different emission sources reduces costs of storage. Improvements in technology increase efficiency and reduce costs.
CCS today is dependent on some level of government subsidy or other kinds of support to be economically feasible. However, as with all technologies, as new projects are built, the costs will go down. In order to move these technologies off of subsidies, it is important to set emission standards or CO2 prices at a level that will drive deployment. By using national, regional and global policy measures, we can create a virtuous circle, where emission/CO2 price levels help drive deployment, which drive costs down, which in turn catalyzes broader market and regulatory and drivers – to the point where CCS is widely deployed on a global scale.
Questioning CCS technology is no longer an excuse to not implement CCS for industries where fossil fuels are being used.