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Verification of Geologic Greenhouse Gas Sequestration

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Many types of negative (greenhouse gas) emissions technology and greenhouse gas reduction use carbon capture and storage (CCS) a.k.a. carbon capture and sequestration, which begs the question how effective is sequestration? This paper will examine current techniques for greenhouse gas geologic sequestration, and requirements and techniques for verifying the effectiveness of this process.

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John Benson's picture

Thank John for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 19, 2019 5:29 pm GMT

Been waiting for this one from you, John! You didn't disappoint-- thanks for the work that went into research and writing this. 

Did you come away from this endeavor more or less optimistic about the ability for CCS to be a viable part of a carbon neutral future?


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 20, 2019 4:59 pm GMT

John, all of your hard work duly acknowledged - I can't see how verifiably collecting and stuffing CO2, a colorless, odorless waste gas into the Earth and confirming it will stay there permanently could ever rise above the level of an absurdly far-fetched fantasy:

• its incentive and opportunity for fraud are only matched by its potential as a distraction and justification for continued extraction indefinitely
• in developing countries, investing in the necessary infrastructure to collect and bury a waste gas, at selected sites hundreds or thousands of miles from where it's emitted, will come in a distant second place to extracting useful energy for its citizens (the largest CCS facility in the world is currently capable of sequestering 1 mTCO2e/yr - 1/37,000 of the quantity being emitted globally).
• Any oil recovered by Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) will, when burned, emit thousands of times more CO2 into the air than could fit into the subterranean volume previously occupied by oil.

What am I missing here?

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Nov 19, 2019 7:10 pm GMT

Matt & Bob, Thanks for the comments.

Bob. As I mentioned in the paper, all carbon dioxide is not the same. Each batch has fingerprints provided by the percentages of different isotopes of carbon in the compound. I found lots of references on this prior to writing the article, but they were either too specialized or  used too much technical jargon.

I just looked again and found a good site that does a reasonable job of explaining this (link below).

In the reference 1 in my paper, the authors recommend using lasers to monitor the field over any sequestration site. These lasers would probably be tuned to a frequencies that absorbs C-13 and C-14 (my guess). If these became different than the normal atmospheric profile, it would mean the monitoring would need to localize any leak (see section 2.3 in my paper and the references therein if you want to drill into this).


Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 19, 2019 11:58 pm GMT

John, re: your NOAA source:

"...scientists can figure out how much of the carbon dioxide in a sample comes from each individual source."

Don't see how this applies to CCS. In my view, any carbon stored in deep geologic sequestration sites will be the constantly-changing mix of whatever went in, plus any carbon it picked up inside the Earth - a moving target. Lasers would be incapable of comparing air over the site to a "normal" atmospheric profile - does one exist? Does it change with the wind, or with local vegetation / time of year?

This strikes me as exceedingly far-fetched and impractical - let's see a demo, before we waste too much time and expense investigating these exotic possibilities. As always, I love to be proven wrong.


John Benson's picture
John Benson on Nov 20, 2019 7:38 pm GMT

OK, Bob, one more try:

When I use a reference, I greatly prefer that it comes from a respected source. I've worked with LBL several times in the past, and know that their scientists are top-tier, but that wasn't enough - I looked at the CVs for the authors of the main reference used in this paper, and confirmed that they were solid.

Thus, given this, when they said something about a technology used, I thought about it, and decided if the "something" was reasonable based on my understanding, and if so accepted it. My train-of-thought for detecting carbon dioxide leakage was: it would be easy (and inexpensive enough) to add a few ppb of tracer gas to the injected carbon dioxide, but they didn't seem to think this was required, which probably means that they feel that a survey can discriminate between background carbon dioxide and the carbon dioxide sequestered based on the respective carbon and oxygen isotopic fingerprints alone. In the last quoted paragraph, they seem to infer this.

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