Think We Can Pump Carbon Dioxide Into Old Oil Wells & It Will Stay There? Think Again

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Fossil fuel advocates aren’t worried about carbon dioxide emissions. Just capture the CO2 rising up in smokestacks at natural gas and coal powered generating stations, compress it, truck it to ports, load it onto ships, and shove it into old wells far at sea. Bazanga! Problem solved. It’s a very appealing scenario except for one small detail. It doesn’t work.

carbon capture
Credit:STEMM-CCS via YouTube

But you have to dig a little through the research to figure that out. Researchers from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel have conducted tests in abandoned North Sea wells off the coast of Norway and concluded that while leaking carbon dioxide near a well may lower the pH of seawater nearby from 8 to 7, strong currents quickly disperse the acidic water. So there’s nothing to worry about folks. Any negative effects are temporary and localized. That’s pretty much what we were told by British Petroleum after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Actually, dear researchers, that is 100% Grade A horse puckey. The research showed that methane is leaking from many of the 10,000 wells in the North Sea because the surrounding sediments were mechanically disturbed and weakened during the drilling process.

CO2 stored in the vicinity of these wells may leave the storage formation, leak into the North Sea, and ultimately return into the atmosphere. So putting aside the issue of further acidification of the the oceans, pumping carbon dioxide into wells is a temporary solution at best. Yet the research, published recently in the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, claims it supports the efficacy of carbon sequestration.

“In conclusion, we can say that observations and accompanying modeling confirmed that leakage through wells may affect local ecosystems in the immediate vicinity of the well but has no detrimental large-scale effects on the North Sea ecosystem. Thus, we tentatively conclude that it is possible to store CO2 safely in sub-seabed formations if the storage site is located in an area with a small number of leaky wells,” says professor Klaus Wallmann of GEOMAR. (Emphasis added.)

Isn’t this like saying storing boulders in the attic is perfectly safe as long as the house doesn’t collapse? We aren’t talking about sequestering carbon for a few weeks or a few months, or even a few years. If sequestration is to work, it will need to be effective for centuries. Many, many centuries. The study offers little reason to believe that is possible.

This month a second release experiment is conducted in the North Sea by the European project STEMM-CCS. Advanced sensors and monitoring devices will be used to track and trace the released CO2 and study the environmental effects. These additional data will help us to further validate the performance of prospective storage sites in the North Sea and their potential contribution to climate change mitigation.

Gosh, a research project by an organization dedicated to proving the worth of carbon capture and sequestration technology. That’s a report that can be written before the research vessel leaves the dock. It might help you to understand what is going on here if you are told a major partner in this research is Royal Dutch Shell. Oh.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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