Geologic Carbon Sequestration: Leakage Potential and Policy Implications

Friday, 19 December 2014
Jeffrey M Bielicki1, Catherine A Peters2, Jeffrey P Fitts2 and Elizabeth J Wilson3, (1)The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, United States, (2)Princeton University, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton, NJ, United States, (3)University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Minneapolis, MN, United States
The geologic reservoirs that could be used for long-term sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) may have natural or manmade pathways that allow injected CO2, or the brine it displaces, to leak into overlying formations. Using a basin-scale leakage estimation model, we investigated the geophysical parameters that govern this leakage, and the resulting accumulations of leaked fluids in overlying formations. The results are discussed in the context of two polices aimed at governing long-term sequestration and protecting groundwater: the U.S. DOE guideline for storage permanence and the U.S. EPA UIC Program Class VI Rule. For a case study of CO2 injection into the Mt. Simon sandstone in the Michigan sedimentary basin, we showed that (1) the U.S. DOE guideline would allow for more leakage from larger injection projects than for smaller ones; (2) leakage amounts are determined mostly by well leakage permeability rather than by variation in formation permeabilities; (3) numerous leaking wells with anomalously high leakage permeabilities are necessary in order to achieve substantial leakage rates; (4) leakage can reach potable groundwater but intervening stratigraphic traps reduce the amount to be multiple orders of magnitude less than the leakage out of the reservoir, and (5) this leakage can reduce the Area of Review that is defined by the U.S. EPA as the area within which leakage can threaten groundwater. In summary, leakage that exceeds the U.S. DOE storage permanence goal would occur only under extreme conditions, the amount that reaches shallow potable groundwater may be inconsequential from a pollution standpoint, and leakage may be beneficial. Future federal policies should be harmonized to achieve the dual goals of protecting groundwater while allowing for adaptive management that incorporates uncertainties and imperfections inherent in geologic reservoirs.