Posted by: indiesfaves | January 18, 2011

High CO2 Levels Found on Farm near Carbon Sequestration Site

Matthew Green blog this post and I am re-posting
January 18, 2011

A family from Canada’s Saskatchewan Province has obtained the first evidence suggesting that CO2 pumped underground to capture greenhouse gases may not be as secure as fossil fuel industries have claimed.

In 2004, Cameron and Jane Kerr, long-time residents of Weyburn, in Canada’s Saskatchewan Province, began noticing bubbling water, unusual algae growth, rising gravel mounds, and dead animals in the once-clear ponds around the farm that has been in their family for generations.

The property sits atop a huge oil field. Over the last decade, millions of tons of compressed carbon dioxide from a U.S. coal plant have been pumped underground in a nearby site in a process called enhanced oil recovery, in which the gas is used to pressure underground oil reserves into surface wells. As part of a separate billion-dollar carbon capture and storage (CCS) pilot project, the gas is then sequestered in the depleted oil field, roughly a mile below the surface.

The effort – one of the largest CCS projects in the world – has also been seen as a test case for assessing its long-term potential as a tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. The practice is a key element in the effort to develop what’s become know as “clean coal” technology.

Following a series of loud blowouts that left holes in the side of a gravel pit, the Kerrs moved off their property in 2005 citing safety concerns, and have since contended that the unusual occurrences on their farm are the result of CO2 leaking to the surface from the nearby site. It’s a claim that’s been repeatedly denied by Cenovus Energy, the company that now runs the site (formerly operated by EnCana Corp.), and remains unsubstantiated by Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Energy and Resources.

On January 11, Petro-Find GeoChem, an independent testing group hired by the Kerrs and the nonprofit legal group EcoJustice to conduct geologic tests, released results showing unusually high levels of CO2 in certain locations around the property. According to the report, the highest measurement – at a spot roughly 300 meters from the Kerrs abandoned house – is more than double the level considered “immediately dangerous to life and health,” according to the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s exposure standards.

“The provenance or source of the high concentrations of CO2 in soils of the Kerr property is clearly the anthropogenic CO2 injected into the Weyburn Reservoir,” the report concludes.

The report theorizes that the gases may have leaked through fractures in the earth, or through any one of the multiple abandoned oil and gas wells. A further analysis by a research laboratory at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that the measured CO2 is not naturally occurring, and is similar in composition to that used at the storage sites, according to a statement by Ecojustice, the firm representing the Kerr family.

The findings come after years of wrangling with the oil company and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources. The agency eventually agreed, in 2007, to conduct an investigation. Its inquiry, however, captured on camera in the film Dirty Business, was limited to taking simple water and air samples on a single day in 2008, and did not include any testing for carbon dioxide. Contending that they found nothing alarming, the agency has since refused to conduct additional tests, according to Ecojustice. The Kerrs have indicated they intend to take legal action if Cenovus and the ministry refuse to a full public investigation of their property.

View a clip from Dirty Business, in which the Kerrs offer a tour of the areas on their farm they consider to be contaminated by carbon dioxide leakages:

“Cenovus Energy and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources failed to properly monitor and investigate the possibility of a CO2 leak during the last six years,” Barry Robinson, the Ecojustice lawyer advising the Kerrs, said in a prepared statement. “Furthermore, they left the Kerrs in the position of having to prove there was a problem when it was the ministry’s duty to investigate releases from oil and gas activities.”

Robinson added: “It’s clear that something is amiss here … Carbon capture and storage — especially as carried out on the Cenovus site — is not a risk-free silver bullet solution to combating greenhouse gas emissions.”

The study is not absolute proof that the gases are coming from the nearby storage site, but it does highlight the need to further investigate the issue, Robinson told the Fast Forward Weekly, a Calgary newspaper.

Cenovus has hired external consultants to review the results, but maintains that the gas was injected nearly a mile from the Kerrs property, making the likelihood of it travelling such a distance slim. A statement on the company’s website references a report by the International Energy Agency: “The report concludes that the CO2 at Weyburn, which is injected nearly 1.5 km underground and is covered by several layers of cap rock, will remain underground.”

A number of scientists from institutions in Canada and the U.S. have also questioned the study, citing multiple earlier soil analyses of the storage site that found little evidence of leakage. In one critique, Dr. Julio Friedmann, a carbon specialist at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California, argues that the occurrences on the Kerrs’ land are not anomalies at all, but the result of natural CO2 concentrations comparable to samples taken from the soil above and around the Weyburn site before the gas injection. He also notes that the fertilizer used on the Kerrs fields can change the concentration of soil carbon.

“The science of the report does not unequivocally demonstrate that Weyburn has leaked CO2. It certainly does not prove that the sealing rock failed,” said Friedmann. “Mostly I’m appalled at the rush to conclusion by some – the science in the report is equivocal at best, and appears to ignore much of the 10 years of scientific work done to monitor soil gases there.”

In the film Dirty Business, in which the Kerrs are featured, journalist Jeff Goodell explains that the CO2 buried at the Weyburn site is pumped across the border, from a North Dakota coal plant more than 200 miles away. Since 1998, he notes, Canadians have been purchasing more than 5,000 tons of compressed CO2 every day for enhanced oil recovery and storing some of the CO2 in the depleted oil fields.

“I think (the Kerrs) are guinea pigs. I think that they’re the first people who are actually living above a giant pool of CO2,” says Goodell. “This is the beginning of the shape of things to come. If we’re going to be burying a lot of CO2, we’re going to have a lot of people living above it, and we’re going to have a lot of people asking questions.

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Responses

  1. Excellent and SO relevant


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