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WVU researcher leads study identifying active reservoir management as a safer method for underground CO2 storage

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in News, Press Release

In a recently published study, a team of researchers identified a process for managing reservoir pressure that improves the safety of underground carbon storage.

The study team, led by Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University and researchers from the University of Wyoming, and Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories published their findings in the August 2016 issue of the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control.

Efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion hinge on capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) and permanently storing it. However, finding a permanent home for CO2 is not a simple matter. One option is to store the CO2 deep underground.

Underground storage of CO2 involves pressurizing it to the point where it becomes a liquid and forcing it into porous, deep geological rock formations like sandstone.

These formations have an overlying cap rock formation that will prevent seepage to the surface. Unfortunately, the pore spaces in these deep rock formations are invariably filled with saline water, or brine.

“Water is not very compressible,” said Ziemkiewicz. “If you try to inject carbon dioxide into the formation you need to do so under pressure and then it acts like a piston, transferring that pressurized water to the weakest part of the system. If that pressure is too high it will fracture the cap rock and the CO2 escapes.”

Without pressure management, the best outcome is that the carbon dioxide dissipates gradually through the target formation and remains where it belongs. However, that leaves a lot of uncertainty and restricts the rate at which carbon dioxide can be put into an injection well.

As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency has placed very stringent conditions on carbon storage wells. Regulated as class VI injection wells, the liabilities associated with them are essentially perpetual and few companies are willing to assume that level of financial risk.

Ziemkiewicz pointed out that the carbon storage issue is one of the major factors restricting the adoption of carbon capture technologies “but, if we can manage water in the target formation, we can manage pressure and ultimately, risk.”

In the study, the research team describes a process for controlling reservoir pressure by pumping brine from the target formation prior to carbon dioxide injection.

A single well is used to first withdraw brine then fill the de-watered voids with liquid carbon dioxide. That way, rather than using carbon dioxide to push water out of the way, which can cause unpredictable fracturing, it fills a prepared void and most of the formation’s porous spaces can be used for carbon storage.

This increases reservoir storage capacity and the CO2 never has a chance to build up excessive pressure and stays where it should. The produced brine can be treated for beneficial use.

Dr. Jeri Sullivan Graham, co-author from Los Alamos National Laboratory, points out that the extracted saline water may be a valuable resource if economical desalination can be achieved.

“The water from the formations that we studied in the Tianjin region is brackish-that is, relatively low in salinity. This means that desalination and reuse of the water in this very water-stressed region is highly feasible and could be a game-changer in terms of water resource augmentation.”

Once a zone around a well is filled with carbon dioxide, another well can be developed to repeat the cycle. By replacing withdrawn water with carbon dioxide, the pressure can be returned to the original level, preventing either cap rock fracture or subsidence.

“Another benefit of removing brine prior to storing CO2 is that this removal provides the well-field operators important information about the character of the target formation before any CO2 is stored, which reduces operational risk.” said Dr. Thomas Buscheck, co-author of the study and earth scientist with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

This concept of using multi-purpose wells for reservoir characterization, injection, and withdrawal may be useful in developing other types of underground injection wells where cap rock fracturing and induced seismicity is an issue.

The project was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center’s Advanced Coal Technology Consortium (ACTC). The study is now available online at http://www.journals.elsevier.com/international-journal-of-greenhouse-gas-control/.

-WVU-

as/08/29/2016

CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia Water Research Institute
304.293.6958, Paul.Ziemkiewicz@mail.wvu.edu

WVU helps countries better understand responsible development, management and impact of unconventional gas resources

Written by WVU News on . Posted in Media, News

Recognizing the depth and breadth of its knowledge about unconventional natural gas resources, the United States Department of State has called on West Virginia University to share that expertise with the world.

With increasing interest in natural gas development both in the U.S. and worldwide, the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources has reached a cooperative agreement with WVU to create the International Forum on Unconventional Gas Sustainability and the Environment, or INFUSE, a unique technical program dedicated to increasing other countries’ understanding of best practices for unconventional gas resource development through a mix of classroom and in the field activities.

Housed within the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, and in collaboration with the WVU Energy Institute, INFUSE uses scientific, technical, policy and environmental lessons that the University has learned through its decades of research to inform international delegations on how proper development and management can reduce environmental risks and lead to sustainable resource development.

“The INFUSE program demonstrates WVU’s leadership and expertise on this critical, global energy topic,” says Brian Anderson, director of the WVU Energy Institute. “We have seen the widespread development of unconventional oil and gas production completely change the energy landscape of the United States and seen the best industry practices evolve over the past decade.

“WVU researchers have continually been on the forefront of developing these technologies and policy innovations; thus, we are uniquely positioned to educate others in the issues and best practices in unconventional hydrocarbon development,” Anderson said.

The program draws upon additional WVU expertise from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, the College of Law, School of Public Health, Regional Research Institute and the West Virginia Water Research Institute. Topics include policies, data, environment, safety, health, water usage, emissions, outreach and engagement with communities, workforce development, risks and rewards, policies and more. To date, four countries have participated (Mexico, Colombia, Morocco, Lithuania). Additional countries will be visiting WVU beginning this fall.

WVU researchers from multiple areas of study have been examining all aspects of shale gas development since production began a decade ago. The most recent interdisciplinary project was the formation of the nation’s first integrated research initiative on shale gas drilling, completion and production.

The Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory, known as MSEEL, is a partnership with The Ohio State University, Northeast Natural Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Scientists, engineers, ecologists, public health professionals, social scientists and more from eight units across the University, in addition to partnering organizations, are collecting data in real time from a science well and two production wells, as well as the surrounding site, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entire life cycle – from drilling to completion to production.

Tim Carr, professor in the department of geology and geography and principal investigator of MSEEL, is an enthusiastic proponent of INFUSE. “MSEEL and other WVU research efforts on unconventional resources in the Appalachian basin and around the world provides a solid foundation for the short courses, site visits, and briefings that comprise our global outreach efforts.”

-WVU-

ms/07/28/16

CONTACT: Brian Anderson, WVU Energy Institute
304.293.6631, Brian.Anderson@mail.wvu.edu
or
Tim Carr, Department of Geology and Geography
304.293.9660, tim.carr@mail.wvu.edu

WVWRI Welcomes New Environmental Technician

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in Blog, News

DSCN6686MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia Water Research Institute (WVWRI) is pleased to announce that Aaron Beam has joined its team as its new Environmental Technician. The WVWRI is a program of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University. Beam, a West Virginia native, earned his undergraduate degrees in Mining Engineering and Geology from West Virginia University.

“I am looking forward to spending time in the field and working with a team of talented and friendly individuals,” said Beam. “It also excites me to be working with a program that is helping with improving water quality in the state.”

In his new role, Beam will be conducting field sampling on a variety of WVWRI projects and assisting in the preparation of associated data, reports, and presentations.

While pursuing his undergraduate degrees, he gained a variety of job experience ranging from mountain bike guide to working in an underground coal mine.

Aaron grew up in central West Virginia in the town of Summersville. There, he learned to love bluegrass music, ramps, and morel mushrooms while developing the hobbies of trail running and trout fishing.

Beam is excited to get to work doing something that is important to him and that he enjoys.

“We are very lucky to have Aaron join our team,” said Melissa O’Neal, program manager for the WVWRI. “His education and can do attitude will be of great value to our staff and will provide us with more opportunity for collaboration with state and private entities.”

Research at WVU Concludes Waste From Test Fracking Wells Safe to be on Highways

Written by Andrew Stacy on . Posted in Blog, News, Press Release

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Researchers at West Virginia University studied drilling wastes produced at two research wells near Morgantown and found they are well below federal guidelines for radioactive or hazardous waste.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU, will present these and other findings from the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory, or MSEEL, today at the Appalachian Basin Technology Workshop in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Ziemkiewicz and his research team are studying the solid and liquid drilling wastes that are generated during shale gas development. These include drill cuttings, muds and produced water.

Drilling a horizontal well in the Marcellus Shale produces about 500 tons of rock fragments, known as cuttings. WVU researchers have been studying the radioactivity and toxicity of the drill cuttings, which are trucked on public roads to county landfills.

MSEEL scientists found that using the “green” drilling mud BioBase 365 at the well site resulted in all 12 cuttings samples passing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s test for leaching toxicity, allowing them to be classified as non-hazardous for non-radiological parameters like benzene and arsenic.

They determined that the drilling mud exerted a strong influence over the environmental risks associated with handling and disposing of drill cuttings.

Ziemkiewicz discussed the findings in the context of the West Virginia, Pennsylvania and federal standards for transportation and landfilling. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation classifies solid wastes exceeding 2,000 pico curies per gram (pCi/g) as low level radioactive waste requiring special permitting and handling.

“Radium is the dominant radioactive element in drilling wastes. In our study, the highest radium readings were below 10.8 pCi/g in the horizontal legs of the two production wells at the MSEEL site. Most were below 5 pCi/g,” says Ziemkiewicz. “The highest radium level in produced water found so far was 17 pCi/g. All of these are well below the U.S. Department of Transportation standard.”

Placing these materials in landfills, however, requires compliance with state landfilling regulations, which are based on exposure levels.

Ziemkiewicz’s team has also sampled the waste streams at the two production wells to identify changes in organic, inorganic and radiochemical composition over time. Among these findings, Ziemkiewicz noted that almost all contaminants increase through the production phase of an unconventional gas well while the volume of water drops rapidly. Toxic concentrations far exceed permissible levels for drinking water or discharge to streams. Most of this water is used for subsequent hydraulic fracturing operations. The remainder is disposed of under the states’ underground injection well programs.

When the production wells were completed in early December 2015, about 50 gallons of produced water came out of the wells each minute. Within a week that dropped to four gallons per minute, and it is currently one third of a gallon per minute or 460 gallons per day.

The MSEEL project is led by West Virginia University and the Ohio State University in partnership with Northeast Natural Energy, Schlumberger and the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the United States Department of Energy. It is the first-ever long-term, comprehensive field study of shale gas resources in which scientists will study the process from beginning-to-end.

The project site consists of an intensively instrumented science well and two shale gas production wells where researchers from WVU, Ohio State, the U.S. Geological Survey, USDOE and several other universities are studying what happens during and after hydraulic fracturing. The five-year MSEEL project includes engineers, ecologists, public health professionals, social scientists and more. The comprehensive studies include monitoring of baseline air, noise, light and water, as well as collecting of geological, environmental and other data.

“This has not been done in a publicly funded study before,” said Ziemkiewicz.

-WVU-

CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz; West Virginia Water Research Institute
304.293.6958; Paul.Ziemkiewicz@mail.wvu.edu