Published on May 9th, 2012 | by Silvio Marcacci3
500 Years of Underground Carbon Storage Mapped across North America
May 9th, 2012 by Silvio Marcacci
North America has at least 500 years of underground carbon dioxide (CO2) storage capacity, according to the North American Carbon Storage Atlas (NACSA). The project, a joint venture between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, is the first-ever atlas to map out potential storage sites.
While the atlas includes high- and low-range estimates, the low (and more realistic) end finds 136 billion metric tons of storage in oil and gas fields, 65 billion metric tons in coal fields, and 1.7 trillion metric tons in saline reservoirs. Combined, these sites represent over 500 years of storage.
Key Data Merged
In addition to mapping out potential storage sites, NACSA also plots the locations of 2,250 large, stationary carbon dioxide sources, mainly large fossil-fuel burning power plants. The combined data has been used to create an online viewer and website, and integrates contributions from the 400 organizations in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships.
By overlaying the two sides of the carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) equation — capture and transportation — the atlas may help facilitate building the infrastructure necessary to capture emissions while all three countries transition to clean energy sources.
Cost Hurdles Remain
The feasibility of CCS has long been debated, but would be a critical tool to slowing climate change. CCS covers many different types of technologies, but the basic theory is that CO2 emissions are captured at large point sources (like power plants) and chilled to a liquid form. Once converted, the CO2 would be piped to suitable locations and safely sequestered underground.
Adding the requisite equipment to existing smokestacks and building new pipelines would cost millions of dollars per site, a significant hurdle to the technology best embodied by the DOE’s oft-delayed FutureGen project.
Some Testing Completed
However, a related project may be reducing the gap between potential and reality by testing potential CO2 storage sites. DOE recently announced test drilling had been completed at three potential underground storage sites, with two located in proximity to significant emissions sources.
The Newark basin, which runs under a heavily industrialized section of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania is estimated to have a storage capacity of up to 10 billion metric tons. The Rock Springs Uplift, in southwestern Wyoming, is located near several of the state’s largest emissions sources and has a storage capacity of 23 billion metric tons.
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