In Europe, carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects are being suspended or deferred and there seems to be a general lack of support by governments for these projects.
A significant problem is the difficulty of predicting the future price of carbon: Companies need a commercial incentive to pursue CCS projects. The price of carbon or the penalties associated with emission of CO2 have to be such that it makes good commercial sense.
Without confidence in the future price of carbon or carbon taxes, companies will be unwilling to invest in this technology.
Fortunately, on the geotechnical side, understanding of CCS technology is growing. The Geological Society of London (GSL)-AAPG conference held in late November in London on Carbon Capture and Storage represented the first of a series of conferences that AAPG will hold with the GSL on this topic. Jon Gluyas, conference chair and professor of CCS at Durham University, organized a comprehensive and fascinating program of speakers for an international group of geoscientists and engineers from academia, industry and government surveys and regulatory bodies.
The proceedings concentrated on the two most important geotechnical criteria affecting the commercial viability of CCS projects – capacity and containment. The determination of parameters such as pore volume, permeability and connectivity of potential host formations were reviewed, and the nature of pre-existing pore fluids and the potential for long-term injection at the volumes required by individual projects were discussed.
Presentations described the physical nature of CO2 when injected, the chemical and physical interactions that take place in the reservoir and the ultimate nature of the CO2 as it resides in the reservoir over the long term. Vital to the evaluation of risk is a good understanding of trap integrity. The properties of faults and lithological seals and how they may change as a result of injection were reviewed and case studies of projects in the United States and Australia were presented.
The conference provided strong evidence that the geotechnical issues associated with CCS are well understood and that it should be possible to collect and analyze enough data in order to assess the geological risk associated with CCS projects.
A joint AAPG-GSL conference on CCS is under discussion for November, to be held in the United States
The next task we face is educating governments, regulatory bodies and the general public.
Governments and the general public will have to be satisfied that the injected CO2 will remain in its host formation and will not escape and cause underground or surface environmental problems. Careful public education and consultation will be vital.
Governments and the public also are becoming concerned about the potential environmental impact of injecting materials into the subsurface. Industry has not done a good job in educating people about the risks associated with CCS. European Union regulations state that CO2 needs to be stored “permanently,” but what do they mean by “permanently?” This must be clarified.
Perhaps more of the regulatory environment will become clear before the next conference, which will be held in the United States next year.