Saturday, July 25, 2009

Research for Deployment: Incorporating Risk, Regulation, and Liability for Carbon Capture and Sequestration

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Research for Deployment: Incorporating Risk, Regulation,and Liability for Carbon Capture and Sequestration

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Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) has the potential to enable deep reductions in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, however this promise can only be fulfilled with large-scale deployment. For this to happen, CCS must be successfully embedded into a larger legal and regulatory context, and any potential risks must be effectively managed. We developed a list of outstanding research and technical questions driven by the demands of the regulatory and legal systems for the geologic sequestration (GS) component of CCS. We then looked at case studies that bound uncertainty within two of the research themes that emerge. These case studies, on surface leakage from abandoned wells and groundwater quality impacts from metals mobilization, illustrate how research can inform decision makers on issues of policy, regulatory need, and legal considerations. A central challenge is to ensure that the research program supports development of general regulatory and legal frameworks, and also the development of geological, geophysical, geochemical, and modeling methods necessary for effective GS site monitoring and verification (M&V) protocols, as well as mitigation and remediation plans. If large-scale deployment of GS is to occur in a manner that adequately protects human and ecological health and does not discourage private investment, strengthening the scientific underpinnings of regulatory and legal decision-making is crucial.

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Potential Groundwater Quality Impacts from Metals Mobilization.

Groundwater merits special attention because it is a precious resource, and it is subject to current regulation. While there are several ways in which large-scale injection or leakage might affect water supplies, most attention has focused on CO2−brine−rock interactions. While processes in this system could affect both organic and inorganic geochemistry of aquifers, only the mobilization of inorganic compounds, chiefly metals, through dissolution and transport will be considered here.

South Liberty (Frio) Pilot, TX.

In 2004, a DOE pilot field experiment in South Liberty, TX injected 1800 t of CO2 into the Frio saline formation (29). This injection was designed to validate simulations of CO2 transport and fate in one of the largest saline formations in the United States. A monitoring well located 100 ft. from the injection well collected direct fluid samples using a U-tube apparatus (30). This tool and others detected arrival of a CO2 plume in the monitoring well 7 days after injection.

Of note, a substantial amount of dissolved metal was recovered in the U-tube (31). Initially, workers thought that the well casing was reacting to carbonic acid in the reservoir. However, laboratory studies and geochemical analyses confirmed that a substantial fraction of the metals were the product of mineral dissolution, specifically the oxide and hydroxide coatings of mineral grains that represent <2%>31). The rapidity of mobilization and the high concentrations suggested strongly that carbonic acid formed from dissolved CO2 in formation brines might quickly and dramatically alter groundwater chemistry.

The Frio was the first saline formation analyzed in this way. Ultimately, this result is not unexpected, yet it is not clear whether this effect of metal mobilization is common or significant at depth. It is also not clear what fraction of metals would be transported with CO2 should it leak to other formations. However, it raised the concern that should CO2 leak into a shallow freshwater aquifer, there could be consequences that could negatively affect groundwater quality, potentially impacting public health and acceptance of CCS deployment.

Carbonate and Siliclastic Systems.

To a first order, both injection targets and shallow aquifers can be divided into siliciclastic or carbonate systems. This division reflects the primary composition of the reservoir rocks. Carbonate systems chiefly comprise calcite, aragonite, dolomite, and other carbonate minerals that form limestones and dolostones, whereas siliciclastic systems chiefly comprise frag ments of quartz, feldspar, and other siliceous minerals that form sandstones, siltstones, and shales.

This compositional difference greatly affects the response of carbon acid. Silicate minerals react slowly with CO2, which means that there is little change in porosity and permeability over the duration of injection; however, the brines with dissolved CO2 will remain acidic. In contrast, carbonate rocks react quickly with CO2 and could change permeability and porosity quickly; however, the rapid kinetics will result in rapid increase of brine pH and buffering of the brine−CO2 system, reducing reactivity over time. Because of these competing effects, it is not clear which fundamental rock composition is more prone to leakage or to mobilizations of metals, and little work has focused on direct comparison of these two primary aquifer compositions.

Key U.S. Freshwater Aquifer Settings.

Given the distribution of CO2 point sources and potential GS reservoirs, it is likely that CO2 storage will be concentrated in a small number of basins. To understand and appraise the potential for metal mobilization in shallow aquifers, it would be helpful to understand the composition and acid-reaction response near the surface of these basins. Table 2 provides a subset of key shallow aquifers in these basins and some issues around their geology.