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Carbon dioxide injected underground in experiment, testing potential way to cut amount in atmosphere

University Of Texas At Austin : 05 October, 2004  (Technical Article)
University of Texas at Austin researchers have begun a key phase of a field experiment testing whether carbon dioxide can be stored in underground formations as a way to keep it from the atmosphere.
On Monday, Oct. 4, the researchers started injecting 3,000 tons of carbon dioxide into a salt water-saturated formation 5,050 feet below the surface. For the next year, they will closely monitor the well.

The experiment is to demonstrate that CO2 can be injected and stored underground without adverse health, safety or environmental effects.

The Gulf Coast Carbon Center, which is part of the university’s Bureau of Economic Geology, is conducting the experiment with the participation of 16 institutions from the United States, Australia and Canada. The U.S. Department of Energy is funding the project.

The experiment is a small but significant step in an international effort against greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere. The experiment for the first time tests techniques for modeling, monitoring and verifying the capacity of the subsurface to store CO2.

CO2 is a naturally occurring gas that is essential to life and not harmful in most cases. In large concentrations, however, it becomes a greenhouse gas that has been linked to global warming. Scientists have calculated that about 7 billion tons of CO2 from manmade sources are released into the atmosphere each year. That includes emissions from gas-powered vehicles and the smokestacks of factories.

The CO2 used in the experiment is the same kind used to carbonate soft drinks and beer.

The project is part of a broader strategy of the Gulf Coast Carbon Center to develop economics-based solutions to climate change.

“Through the Gulf Coast Carbon Center, the bureau has an ambitious research program mapped out to make the Texas Gulf Coast a national leader in the future business of underground carbon storage,” said Scott Tinker, director of the bureau.

The bureau’s research has shown that the Gulf Coast has many subsurface locations where CO2 could be stored. They include oil and gas reservoirs, salt water aquifers and terrestrial grasses. They could be paired with the Gulf Coast’s industrial sources of CO2.

Researchers in Europe and Japan have done experimental injections of CO2 into brines before. The experiment is more closely monitored and is being documented using a number of new and innovative techniques, according to Sue Hovorka, the BEG research scientist leading the project.

Monitoring that CO2 stays underground will be a key requirement in the future when verification of long-term CO2 storage may be essential to get payment for sequestering CO2 through “carbon credits.” Companies that produce more CO2 emissions than allowed by law could buy credits from companies whose emissions are less than legal limits.

The Gulf Coast Carbon Center is a research initiative of the BEG that combines resources from the Jackson School of Geosciences with four major industry partners, BP, Chevron Texaco, Kinder Morgan and Praxair, to develop innovative scientific and engineering approaches to sequestering carbon.

The Jackson School, established in 2001, brought together three major components that conduct geologic education and research at the university. These components are the Department of Geological Sciences, the Bureau of Economic Geology and the Institute for Geophysics.
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