IEAGHG CCS Monitoring and Environmental Research Networks in Canberra

Written by Jerry Blackford – Marine System Modeller, Plymouth Marine Laboratory and UKCCSRC Co-ordination Group Member/Research Area Champion for Ecosystems and Environmental Impact

The IEAGHG network workshop series provide an annual opportunity to catch up with the latest research in the field from across the globe as well as discuss implementation with various stakeholders having an interest in CCS.

During late August the IEAGHG held a combined meeting for its CCS Monitoring and Environmental Research Networks hosted by CO2CRC at the Australian National University in Canberra. The theme was Realistic Monitoring of CO2 Migration – From the Reservoir to the Surface. Several UKCCSRC members presented at the workshop including Andy Chadwick and Dave Jones from BGS, Ian Wright from NOC, Anna Korre from Imperial and Steve Widdicombe and Jerry Blackford from PML. The following is a personal view of the meeting, but hopefully not too at odds with the consensus!

It was encouraging to see that the international research effort is highly complementary, there even being many useful synergies between terrestrial and marine research. It is also clear that research is delivering understanding that is fundamentally useful. For example ecological impacts of small – medium leaks would appear to be limited, at least in areal extent. There is also progress towards instrumentation that would underpin monitoring in both terrestrial and marine environments. However it is perhaps more interesting to list the knowledge gaps that were highlighted. 

The first of these relates to attribution of CO2 – when is a “leak” in fact an entirely natural phenomenon? It would be catastrophic to a project if confidence in storage integrity was lost due to a false positive – there are many natural processes that can lead to gas / CO2 releases. A far better understanding of baselines and the natural dynamics and heterogeneity in space and time was flagged as crucial.

Challenges exist in enabling techniques for wide area monitoring both in the overburden and at the surface (on and offshore). The latter is necessary as smaller leaks will generally not be visible to geological monitoring. Whilst mechanisms of transfer in water and air are now well understood, mechanisms of flow within the overburden (including superficial sediments) are far less so and require some intensive research. To this end controlled release experiments have a potentially high value.

There was a recognition that first projects set important precedents, and there is a lack of exemplar completed regulatory compliance standards to set such precedents. Hence better engagement between the research and regulatory community is a priority. Much depends on learning from medium sized public-funded capture – storage projects run under strong regulatory regimes with appropriate opportunities for feedback, flexibility and development.

As ever with the IEAGHG network meetings, excellent field trips, social occasions and venue contributed to the exchange of ideas. Further meetings of these networks will be held during 2014. More information can be found on the IEAGHG web site.

Finally I must acknowledge the UKCCSRC for financial assistance towards this trip, much appreciated.