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Bristol seismologists join carbon capture research initiative

Image of the Bristol team at the site (Left to right: Michael Kendall, Anna Stork, Anna Horleston)

The Bristol team at the site (left to right: Professor Michael Kendall, Dr Anna Stork, Dr Anna Horleston)

Press release issued: 3 September 2015

Ways to improve monitoring of carbon capture and storage (CCS) sites are being investigated by three University of Bristol seismologists as part of a new international collaborative research initiative.

The initiative, funded by the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre (UKCCSRC), recently got underway at CMC Research Institutes' field research station in Alberta, Canada.

The collaboration aims to investigate and improve monitoring for CCS sites where carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured as it is produced – for example at a power station or oil or gas well – and then injected deep below the surface to be stored permanently in geological formations.  The aim of CCS is to prevent CO2 being released to the atmosphere, thereby mitigating climate change.  Storage reservoirs are usually more than 1.5km deep and so sophisticated monitoring methods, such as geophysical and geochemical surveys, are required to ensure the CO2 remains at this depth.

Dr Anna Stork, Dr Anna Horleston and Professor Michael Kendall from the Bristol University Microseismicity Projects (BUMPS) group in the School of Earth Sciences have been at the site, located 20km southwest of Brooks, Alberta, Canada, installing three broadband seismometers to record seismic events over the next year.  The project was one of four awarded funds by the UKCCSRC to support international collaborative research at the field research station (FRS), a site being developed for CCS research in affiliation with the University of Calgary.

Dr Stork’s project will see a total of seven broadband seismometers installed at distances ranging from 200m to three kilometres from the site’s two injection wells.  The extremely sensitive seismometers will detect local microseismic events, some so small their energy is the equivalent of a pad of paper falling off a desk.  They are also capable of recording large earthquakes occurring on the other side of the world.

Barring any power or equipment failures, the seismometers will run continuously for the next year with data used to map the underground structures in the area.  The recordings will also provide baseline information on the naturally occurring background rate of seismic events in the area.  This information will be compared to microseismic activity after injection starts in 2016 to determine which events are the result of injection operations and which are natural.

Don Lawton, Director of CMC’s Containment and Monitoring Institute and a professor of geophysics at the University of Calgary, says the collaborative program will help advance research to ensure CO2 can be stored securely in large-scale CCS operations.

He said: “Collaborative initiatives like the one funded by the UKCCSRC are important for the long-term development and commercialization of CCS.  By sharing data and results researchers will be able to offer industry and government regulators best codes of practice for the long-term monitoring of stored CO2.  We look forward to working with our colleagues from the UK.”

Dr Stork is excited to have the opportunity to work at the unique facility.  Industrial CCS projects operate around the world injecting CO2 kilometres below the surface and there are also surface test sites.  However, the FRS is the only research site where CO2 will be injected in the subsurface at the relatively shallow depths of 300m and 500m.

She said: “We haven’t previously had the opportunity to study any CO2 injection this shallow and working out what happens if CO2 gets to these depths and how you can detect it is very important.  We need to determine what methods are most suitable for monitoring at shallow depths.”

This was Dr Stork’s second trip to the FRS.  In May 2015, she toured the site and observed as the University of Calgary’s Dave Eaton and a team of postdoctoral researchers learned to install and operate a down-hole microseismic cable system.  As well, researchers from the Consortium for Research in Elastic Wave Exploration Seismology project undertook a vertical seismic profile experiment using the down-hole cable.

Further information

About CMC Research Institutes

CMC Research Institutes (CMC) provides solutions for a low-carbon world. CMC is an independent, not-for-profit business with one key mission – accelerating innovation to eliminate industrial greenhouse gas emissions.  It does this through its research institutes and through the programs and services it offers. 

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