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The Warsaw Voice » Other » November 19, 2008
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Arguing for Underground Gas Storage
November 19, 2008   
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Prof. Jakub Siemek and Dr. Stanisław Nagy from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow, talk to Teresa Bętkowska.

Environmentalists continue to sound the alarm over the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. But some say that storing carbon dioxide in the ground poses an environmental threat and could even spell annihilation for humans-perhaps as soon as 50 or 100 years from now. Is this a realistic threat?
J.S.: The information is inaccurate. You can read in scientific periodicals in the United States, various European Union countries and Australia about how the carbon dioxide trapped underground will take 5,000 years to decompose. Scientists say that this gas will still be in the ground though it will also spread slowly. I can assure you that over the next several thousand years humanity will develop such technologies as to give us no reason to worry today. Storing gases in deep geological layers, at a depth of up to 3,000 meters, is nothing new. This storage technology has been used since the 1950s. Natural hermetic porous layers are good places for storing natural gas. There are over 1,000 such depots around the world today. Huge depots with a capacity of 20 billion cubic meters can be found in countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, and the United States.

Are they in areas where people live?
J.S.: Of course, they are usually next to gas mains. They are located near industrial centers, up to 150 kilometers from large conurbations. They pose no threat to people. They substantially reduce transport costs and, in an emergency, gas can be delivered very quickly to factories or heat generation plants.

That's natural gas, but what about carbon dioxide, whose storage underground is causing the most anxiety?
S.N.: This anxiety is groundless. The storage of carbon dioxide is based on advanced technologies. Computer simulations show what can happen to the stored gas in 1,000 or even several thousand years. Moreover, a storage area like that has to be monitored, including taking soil air samples through special boreholes and subjecting them to chromatographic analysis. Let me also add that direct geochemical methods, including gas surveys, are used to monitor carbon dioxide migration and check how the gas penetrates into the geological layers.

What advanced technologies do you mean exactly?
S.N.: We're talking about carbon dioxide sequestration in geological formations, aimed at capturing, transporting and neutralizing or storing and isolating this compound from the biosphere. The first carbon dioxide injections into geological layers, with the aim of increasing oil extraction, were performed in the 1970s in the United States, and the first serious test specifically with carbon dioxide sequestration in mind was carried out on a large scale in the mid-1990s in Norway, on the North Sea-in Sleipner. Carbon dioxide was injected into the Utsira water-bearing layers located under the natural gas deposit, separated from the surface by layers of impermeable shale and mud.

J.S.: It's an excellent testing ground. About a million tons of carbon dioxide is injected down there every year. In this way the Norwegians avoid having to pay high penalties for the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The technology of injecting carbon dioxide into oil and natural gas deposits, as a liquid to displace those native hydrocarbons, is widely used around the world today.

What's the situation in Poland?
J.S.: A consortium was set up recently that includes researchers from institutions such as the Polish Geological Institute, the AGH University of Science and Technology, the Central Mining Institute, the Oil and Gas Institute, and the Mineral and Energy Economy Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

S.N.: Work is beginning on a nationwide project called Identifying Formations and Structures for Safe Geological Storage of Carbon Dioxide, accompanied by a Monitoring Program.

When will the project be ready for launch?
J.S.: In a few years at the earliest. I have to say, though, that one test has already been carried out in Poland: carbon dioxide was injected into a coal deposit through one opening and was observed through another opening a few hundred meters away. The point was to study the influence of methane and increase the carbon dioxide concentration. This was a European Union program carried out by the TNO Institute and the Mining Institute-the Recpol research project financed under the EU's 6th Framework Program.

Another project worth mentioning involved injections of acid gas left after the treatment of natural gas having a high hydrogen sulfide content at the Borzęcin deposit-where the process has been carried out since 1995-to layers underlying the gas deposit.

What are the conclusions from these experiments?
S.N.: Carbon dioxide sequestration in deep coal layers is possible because coal holds the gas well thanks to absorption. This is due to its much greater affinity with carbon dioxide than with methane, which means the carbon dioxide remains trapped for good.

J.S.: Experiments with storing carbon dioxide in geological layers are being conducted on a large scale in many European countries, the United States and Australia, and also by our neighbors in Germany.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

To reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the European Union is encouraging member countries to develop technologies for trapping and storing carbon dioxide underground. This mainly applies to carbon dioxide produced by coal-fired power plants.

Such a carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology would reduce emissions by 80-90 percent, experts say, but the cost of the technology is enormous. Some say the technology would increase the price of energy generated by some 60 percent.

The European Commission is working to develop a pilot program under which the latest CCS technologies would be installed in 12 European power plants to begin with. Poland wants to host at least one such system. At the same time, officials in Brussels have drafted a directive on the geological storage of carbon dioxide, selection of storage sites, and related monitoring and security procedures.

Practically all across Poland, and especially in its western and central regions, there are porous rocks deep underground that could store huge amounts of carbon dioxide, according to experts. Their capacity is estimated to be enough to last more than 100 years. A comprehensive program for transporting and storing the gas needs to be developed, experts say, and specialist services are needed to seek out storage sites, test their tightness, monitor them, predict their behavior over hundreds of years, and guarantee their safety for the environment and humans.
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