Optimal Geological Environments for Carbon Dioxide Disposal in Brine Formations (Saline Aquifers) in the United States Pilot Experiment in the Frio Formation, Houston Area

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2003

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This Environmental Assessment (EA) provides the results of an evaluation of the potential environmental consequences of a field experiment and injection of CO2 into a subsurface brine-bearing formation, a process known as geologic sequestration. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing to fund this project to determine if geologic sequestration of CO2 is safe and effective in reducing atmospheric releases, and if the sequestration process can be modeled, measured, and monitored. If approved, DOE would provide the $3.4 million cost of the project.

This project was proposed by the Bureau of Economic Geology as Phase III of a DOE-initiated competitive solicitation DE-RA26-98FT35008. Phase I and Phase II assessed the optimal geological environments for geologic sequestration in brine formations in the onshore U.S., and found that the upper Texas Gulf Coast was a region with excellent potential for geologic sequestration. Phase III will test the Phase I and Phase II conclusions with a field experiment.

Increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are thought to have the potential to force change toward a warmer global climate. These changes may have negative impacts on human systems as well as ecosystems. DOE is developing an understanding of environmentally acceptable options.

Geologic sequestration is one of the highly ranked technologies for stabilizing the amount of CO2 released to the atmosphere as waste from combustion of fossil fuel. In this method, CO2 is captured from a stationary industrial source of CO2, compressed, and injected into the subsurface. The injection site must be selected to have the geologic properties that will assure that the CO2 will remain trapped in the subsurface and isolated from the atmosphere for thousands of years. The natural capacity of the subsurface to trap and retain buoyant fluids such as oil and natural gas is well known. Technologies for injection of fluids into the subsurface are widely applied both for waste disposal and for enhancing recovery of oil.

This field experiment is designed to closely monitor the performance of the subsurface in holding CO2. To reduce risks, the injection is designed using the minimum volume of CO2 that can be measured in the subsurface using a wide variety of techniques, and to be completed over a short period of time (less than 1 year). The results obtained from monitoring a small volume will provide assurance that in a similar geologic environment, a large volume can be safely and effectively injected and monitored over a longer time frame. Monitoring and modeling tools have been designed and will be tested at this site by researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).

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