First-generation risk profiles help predict CO2 storage site obstacles

Washington, D.C. — In support of large-scale carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) projects, a collaboration of five U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories has completed first-generation risk profiles that, for the first time, offer a means to predict the probability of complications that could arise from specific carbon dioxide (CO2) storage sites.

With their detailed methodology for quantifying risk potential at underground carbon storage sites, the profiles will help support safe, large-scale CCUS projects, an important option in the effort to reduce human-generated CO2 emissions linked by many experts to global climate change.

The profiles are a product of the National Risk Assessment Partnership (NRAP), led by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and the NETL-Regional University Alliance (Carnegie Mellon University, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia University). The five national laboratories that form the Partnership and the expertise contributed include:


  • Lawrence Berkeley National Lab—monitoring for risk assessment;
  • Los Alamos National Lab— modeling for risk assessment;
  • Pacific Northwest National Lab—risks to groundwater systems;
  • Lawrence Livermore National lab— natural seal integrity; and
  • NETL—wellbore integrity.

The effectiveness of carbon storage depends greatly on the ability of a specific site to store CO2 permanently. However, variable field conditions, such as geology, wellbores, and fractures, can complicate researchers’ abilities to predict potential risks. Following injection for underground storage, the site is monitored to ensure the CO2 remains permanently contained. However, a technical challenge for all storage sites is how to predict the long-term effectiveness of the storage site and what potential risks might develop.

NRAP’s risk profiles offer a more concrete and detailed profile, meaning scientists will be able to design site-specific monitoring and mitigation strategies to minimize potential liabilities.

Additionally, NRAP’s first-generation risk profiles define the quantitative probability of when key indicators could cross specific thresholds over time. For example, current profiles can predict the probability that more than 0.01 percent of the quantity of CO2 injected will be released back to the atmosphere for certain well configurations. Using these indicators, scientists will be able to assess potential consequences to human health, environmental health, and damage to property.

The first-generation risk profiles are part of NRAP’s Phase I. During this phase, three different generations of risk profiles will be developed, each generation improving the technical complexity and reducing uncertainty compared to the previous generation. In Phase II, NRAP researchers will focus on identifying and developing risk management approaches that include strategic monitoring to verify system performance and to lower uncertainty. The Partnership may also include a third phase, which would involve gaining additional data from field tests.

NRAP is one of several simulation and modeling efforts conducted under the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Simulation Initiative. U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the creation of the initiative on September 8, 2010, with an investment of up to $40 million in funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The CCS Simulation Initiative will help achieve a key goal of the DOE’s Carbon Sequestration Research Program: at least 99 percent retention of CO2 in underground reservoirs over a 100-year period.

The information gained through the Partnership will further DOE’s effort to develop lower cost, efficient industrial CCS processes. The collaboration also builds upon the Administration’s goal to overcome the barriers to widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCUS technologies within 10 years, while helping position the United States as a global leader in clean energy.