Kansas Geological Survey granted nearly $5 million to investigate underground CO2 storage

The Kansas Geological Survey has received a nearly $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the feasibility of storing carbon dioxide underground.

Awarded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the grant is the largest ever received by the Kansas Geological Survey. It will be used to determine whether a largely depleted oil and gas field in south-central Kansas and an underlying saline aquifer can permanently and safely sequester carbon dioxide from stationary sources such as electric, cement, ethanol and fertilizer plants.

A collaborative effort between government and industry, the three-year project will include scientists from the Kansas Geological Survey, KU and Kansas State University departments of geology and two Wichita-based firms — BEREXCO Inc. and Bittersweet Energy Inc. Kansas Geological Survey geologists Lynn Watney and Saibal Bhattacharya are leading the investigation.

“CO2 sequestration is in the early phase of implementation globally,” Watney said. “We will be evaluating the sequestration capacity of depleted oil fields and deep saline aquifers and are aiming to develop an effective carbon-sequestration model that is tailored to the Kansas industry and economy.”

Research will be done on the Wellington oil and gas field in Sumner County south of Wichita, which has produced 20 million barrels of oil since 1927.

Subsurface rock units in the Wellington field, which once held the large quantities of oil and gas, will be evaluated through drilling and other geophysical methods to determine their capacity to securely contain CO2 in the future. The project is a subsurface characterization investigation and will not include any sequestration of CO2.

“A lot of technical questions associated with the physical process of storing CO2 underground have yet to be answered, and studies such as this are necessary for us to develop an understanding of the detailed fluid-rock interactions that will occur over long periods of time,” said Kansas Geological Survey Director William Harrison. “These studies will yield information that could be valuable as rules and regulations are formulated for underground sequestration applications.”

In addition to investigating the possibilities for CO2 sequestration in oil and gas fields, the researchers will model the use of industry-emitted CO2 to squeeze out trapped oil and gas unreachable by traditional methods.

They will also study the suitability of the Ozark Plateau Aquifer System — mainly composed of Arbuckle Group rocks — for sequestration in a 17-county area. The highly saline water in the aquifer, which is about 4,000 feet beneath the surface in south-central Kansas, is not usable for other purposes and is isolated from shallower freshwater aquifers by impermeable rock units.

“This study will help us understand the different mechanisms that result in subsurface CO2 sequestration and evaluate risks associated with leakage of injected CO2,” Bhattacharya said.

Second only to China for the highest CO2 emissions from human activities, the United States generates more than 5.7 billion metric tons annually, or nearly 20 percent of the 33 billion metric tons emitted worldwide.

Besides reducing the amount of CO2 discharged into the air, successful geologic sequestration of CO2 could lead to the development of a new industry in the state. The Ozark Plateau Aquifer System and the Wellington field, as well as other oil and gas fields that produce from the same rock units, are centrally located near multiple sources of emissions that could be captured and stored.

“The findings in this study will be used to evaluate the feasibility of a regional infrastructure for carbon capture and storage that would be needed to establish a commercial-scale CO2-sequestration industry in the Midwest,” Watney said. “Potential for enhanced oil recovery also could generate interest in the Kansas oil and gas industry.”

The Kansas Geological Survey also will be collaborating on another Department of Energy-funded, Kansas-based CO2 sequestration project with the Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration and the Wichita-based firm, CAP CO2, LLC.

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