Another Disturbance In The Force: New Study Concludes That Co2 Injection In Texas May Have Caused Minor Earthquakes

Posted on November 15, 2013 by Dean Calland

New rumblings are being heard regarding carbon sequestration.  Proponents of the injection of substances into deep formations as a desirable method of waste disposal were shaken to learn that a study published just this week has concluded that the underground injection of carbon dioxide in Texas may have induced earthquakes.  This follows on the heels of a much publicized study performed for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) last year that concluded that the injection of oil field brine into an underground injection well (known as the Northstar 1 Well) near Youngstown, Ohio, was at fault for inducing seismic activity.  

The potential for causing earthquakes from CO2 injection has sent tremors through the clean coal (or perhaps “green coal”) camps.  Injection bans or significant regulatory hurdles that reduce the availability of injection could create severe aftershocks for the fossil fuel industry.  Affordable capture and underground storage of CO2 is a significant potential opportunity in the clean coal industry’s plan to extend the useful lives of coal burning industrial facilities.

Fortunately, both the Texas and Ohio studies suggest that the circumstances in which injection induces seismic activity are uncommon, although a number of citizen groups may not agree with this assessment.  Ohio’s experience with the underground injection of oil and gas waste fluids may predict how this will play out at the national level.  Beginning in March 2011, an area near the Northstar 1 Well experienced twelve minor earthquakes.  The State of Ohio began an evaluation, ordered the well and four nearby injection wells to cease operations, and discontinued issuing permits for new UIC wells.  ODNR concluded that injection in the Northstar 1 Well had indeed induced the earthquakes, but they resulted from injections into the “basement” Precambrian formation that had a pre-existing fault that was likely in a near-failure state at the time of the injections.   
The Texas study on CO2 published this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined small earthquakes that occurred in 2009 through 2011 in a large oil and gas field in northwest Texas.  Operators in the area had been injecting CO2 to enhance oil recovery since 1971, and significantly increased injections in one of the fields, the Cogdell field, in 2004.  A temporary network of seismometers detected 93 earthquakes in the Cogdell field from March 2009 to December 2010.  However, no seismic activity was detected in nearby injection areas, causing the authors of the study to conclude that seismic activity is likely to occur only in areas with geological faults that are unstable at the time of injection.  Thus, there is not much of a gap between the findings of the Texas and Ohio studies. 

This issue is likely to create an even wider fissure between clean coal supporters and environmental groups, although future studies will likely determine if this debate grows to seismic proportions.

Great Lakes – Great Waste

Posted on September 13, 2013 by David Ullrich

The world’s largest source of surface fresh water is surrounded by a number of nuclear plants that have been generating power and waste for well over 30 years.  Although the region has had the benefit of the power, it also has the legacy of low, medium, and high level waste that has been accumulating at these plants over the years.  There is great concern over this situation because the lakes are the source of drinking water for over 30 million people.

Currently, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has a proposal for a deep geologic repository (DGR) for low and intermediate level radioactive waste at their Bruce Nuclear facility near Kincardine, Ontario.  The waste comes from the Bruce facility, as well as OPG’s Darlington and Pickering plants.  It is currently stored above ground    The DGR would be 680 meters below the surface of the ground and about one kilometer from the shores of Lake Huron.  Kincardine offered to serve as a host community for the DGR, and no other potential sites have been considered.  There has been extensive outreach in the Kincardine area over the past 10 years about the proposal, and some limited amount in Michigan.  Only recently has the broader Great Lakes community become aware of the proposal and some significant concerns have been raised, primarily the proximity to Lake Huron and the lack of consideration of other sites.  In addition, there is concern that this would be a precedent for more disposal sites for not only low and medium level waste, but also the high level waste from spent fuel.  The proposal is under review by a Joint Review Panel formed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

Although OPG has done extensive engineering and geological work, the fundamental question is whether a disposal site should be located so close to one of the Great Lakes, the source of drinking water for over 30 million people.  Also, should just one site be considered for something as significant as this?  Some have argued that there should be no more nuclear plants on the Great Lakes until an acceptable disposal solution has been found.  The reason the nuclear plants are there in the first place is the abundance of available cooling water.  It seems ironic that the convenience of locating the disposal site next to the plant to limit transportation of the waste, also results in the waste staying close to Lake Huron.  We should be able to do much better than this in the 21st Century.

The Future of Carbon Dioxide Capture and Geologic Sequestration (CCS) Discussed at International Conference

Posted on January 24, 2012 by David Flannery

I had the privilege to be a speaker at a CCS conference held at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC on January 19, 2012. The conference was hosted by the Global CCS Institute for the purpose of discussing the strategic directions expected to be undertaken in the development and deployment of the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide. Central to this issue is the national and international concern over climate change at a time when our nation’s energy supply is so closely tied to the use of fossil fuels.

In his keynote speech at the conference Charles McConnell of USDOE’s Office of Fossil Fuels offered the view that coal must be economically advantaged and environmentally sustainable. Much of the conference was dedicated to a review of the many CCS projects being undertaken around the world in an effort to demonstrate the feasibility of the technology.

A key component of the development of CCS is, of course, the cost of the technology and the opportunities that exist to offset those costs. One such opportunity is the use of capture carbon dioxide to enhance the production of oil (EOR). While many of the speakers at the conference recognized the early value of CCS/EOR projects, both Brad Page of the Global CCS Institute and Steve Winberg of Consol Energy pointed out that EOR capacity is only 20% of the ultimate capacity that will be needed to meet the President’s carbon dioxide reduction target. Other alternatives for the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide include depleted oil and gas reserves and greenfield deep saline formations.

My remarks at the conference were directed at the significant leadership being undertaken by the various states to address the legal and regulatory uncertainties associated with CCS activities. West Virginia is among those states where a legislatively mandated working group has recommended not only a comprehensive set of regulatory requirements, but also a liability transfer mechanism during the post operational phase of a project tied to the establishment of an operator generated trust fund. That working group has also recommended a comprehensive set of policies related to property issues including a determination that the use of pore space may be considered a public use to be authorized by permit.  Click here for the list of conference speakers.