There’s a lot of work to do

CO2 Sequestration in Spotlight

It seems like everywhere I go lately everyone wants to debate issues like global warming, climate change, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and cap-and-trade versus a revenue-neutral carbon tax system.

OK, before we go any further and you turn the page, you can relax because I am not going to get into a debate on any of these subjects – at least not in this article.

I will say this though: Geoscientists, whether employed by the oil and gas sector or not, all seem to have their own personal opinions on these subjects.

I, for one, agree with AAPG President John Lorenz, who in his column last month pointed out that the AAPG as a scientific organization has a long-standing history of conducting objective studies, and this attitude is reflected in the AAPG policy statement towards global warming and climate change.

When the subject of climate change came up during the recent Geo-CVD meetings in Washington, D.C. , we as geoscientists and as AAPG members encouraged our legislators to continue to support funding for those programs within the scientific community, universities and government agencies that are involved in doing research to help find the “true” scientific answers to this great debate.

I am, however, reminded of what James Hutton, the father of modern geology, said when he stated, “The past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now. No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle.” We simply know this as the concept of uniformitarianism, or “the present is the key to past,” one of the great geological principles put forth by Hutton.

Of course, when Hutton said this (around 1780) the estimated world population was around 700 million people, none of whom were driving SUVs or staying up all night like me working on their laptops while watching football on TV. The world now has 6.8 billion inhabitants, largely deriving their energy and transportation sources from the burning of hydrocarbon fuels.

I am not sure the great geologist James Hutton ever envisioned the potential impact that we humans may have on future geological processes.

The recent focus on climate change and the effects of GHG, primarily CO2, emissions from the consumption of hydrocarbons underscores one of the largest challenges to the energy industry today, and that is how to strike a balance between meeting the growing demand for energy while also reducing emissions of GHG at the same time. Even with the current global financial crisis and the economic slowdown the world’s nations will continue to become more developed, and hydrocarbons will continue to be the dominant source of energy for some time to come.

One of the key technologies being developed to help mitigate the effects of CO2 emissions is that of carbon capture and geological carbon sequestration. Geoscientists will play a critical role in finding those sites with the right geological conditions that meet the criteria for long term storage of the CO2.

If geological carbon sequestration is going to play an important role in mitigating GHG emissions, the world is going to have to ramp up in a serious way and have a huge number of active systems up and running by the middle of this century.

So, how daunting of a task will this be?

Consider this: If you take all of the CO2 that currently is being injected at a number of pilot projects throughout the world, and the new ones being proposed by the DOE, this technology will have to be replicated by a factor of 1,000 times in order to be effective in mitigating the effects on climate change.

This is not lost on industry or our government, and one thing that was clear from our Geo-CVD visit is there is going to be a lot of funding allocated to conducting research on geological carbon sequestration. There also is pending legislation calling for the expedition of funds and permits for those working on identifying sequestration targets.

The challenge to geoscientists will be identifying and geologically characterizing these reservoirs so we can then begin working on the infrastructure needed to begin the implementation of large-scale carbon sequestration at these facilities.

The AAPG’s Division of Environmental Geoscientists has a very active CO2 Carbon Sequestration Committee, headed by Tip Meckel at the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin. In addition, the DEG’s Environment Geosciencesjournal, a peer reviewed journal edited by Jim Castle at Clemson University, is just finishing its second special publication dealing with the recognition, characterization and monitoring of geological carbon sequestration reservoirs.

We invite all geoscientists who are interested in being a part of this exciting new challenge, as well as other environmental issues particular to our industry and profession to join the DEG. We welcome your participation and contribution.

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Division Column-DEG Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith is a DEG member and is with the Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver.

Division Column-DEG Mary K. Harris

Mary K. Harris, President, Division of Environmental Geosciences

Division Column-DEG Tom J. Temples

Tom J. Temples is DEG President.

Division Column-DEG Doug Wyatt

Doug Wyatt, of Aiken, S.C., is director of science research for the URS Corporation Research and Engineering Services contract to the USDOE National Energy Technology Laboratory. He also is a member of the DEG Advisory Board for the AAPG Eastern Section.

Division Column-DEG Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs, geologist/hydrogeologist at Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc., is DEG President for 2009-10.

Division Column DEG

The Division of Environmental Geosciences (DEG), a division of AAPG, is concerned with increasing awareness of the environment and the petroleum industry and providing AAPG with a scientific voice in the public arena. Among its objectives are educating members about important environmental issues, supporting and encouraging research on the effects of exploration and production on the environment, and communicating scientific information to concerned governmental agencies.

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