University Receives $6 Million to Assess Carbon Storage Sites in Gulf of Mexico

Sept. 24, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin will use $6 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Texas General Land Office to identify state-owned areas underlying the Gulf of Mexico where carbon dioxide (CO2) can be stored safely and economically.

This study is the first in the U.S. to investigate the potential for permanent underground storage of CO2 in offshore geologic formations. Carbon storage is one option being considered for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere.

"This is a dramatic shift in thinking about carbon storage in the U.S.," said Tip Meckel, co-principal investigator on the project and a research associate at the Bureau of Economic Geology, a research unit at the university's Jackson School of Geosciences. "Until the funding of this proposal, most people thought of carbon storage as an onshore exercise."

Thanks to decades of oil and gas exploration, the Texas state lands of the northern Gulf of Mexico are one of the most geologically studied areas in the world.

"That makes us very comfortable with the idea of starting new activities in this area," said Meckel. He noted preliminary estimates of carbon storage capacity suggest many billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide could be stored in offshore geologic formations in Texas, making offshore storage an extremely promising resource for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Texas has a large capacity for carbon storage on state-owned lands because of its size and because state ownership extends 12 nautical miles offshore, compared to three miles for all other states except Florida. Other advantages include available sources of carbon dioxide from industry and power generation, existing infrastructure from the oil and gas business, and fewer environmental risks compared to sequestration below onshore land.

Storing CO2 deep beneath the Gulf floor could also potentially earn substantial amounts of money for public education in Texas.

"This is yet another way the Texas General Land Office is exploring new income streams for the Permanent School Fund," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. "Oil and gas exploration in the Gulf has brought more than $6 billion to the fund, but oil and gas are finite resources and someday that money will dry up. Storing CO2 in subsurface formations beneath the Gulf floor may replace some of that lost revenue."

The Department of Energy grant ($4.8 million) is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The General Land Office funds ($1.2 million) were set aside during the most recently ended session of the Texas state legislature to assess the potential for creating an offshore carbon repository. ION Geophysical, a company that acquires and processes seismic data for the oil and gas industry, has donated access to extensive regional seismic datasets valued at $9.8 million. Formosa Plastics and its subsidiary, Neumin Production Company, have provided a 3-D seismic survey valued at $3.3 million.

"ION is pleased to contribute our GulfSPAN seismic data library to this investigation," said Bob Peebler, ION chief executive officer. "We have helped numerous companies identify hydrocarbon-producing structures within the Gulf of Mexico region and believe it is only natural that the same data be used to characterize potential carbon storage sites."

After developing a regional picture of potential storage areas, the researchers will identify a select number of sites for intense study where they will collect new site-specific data and drill core samples. The result will be a detailed geological site characterization of specific reservoirs that might be used in the future to economically store industrially produced CO2 emissions.

Other scientists involved in the project at The University of Texas at Austin include Ramón Treviño of the Bureau of Economic Geology, a co-principal investigator, Steven Bryant at the Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering and Matthew Hornbach at the Institute for Geophysics. Outside partners include Sandia Technologies LLC, Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

EDF will assess environmental risks, solicit the concerns of stakeholders and collaborate with international organizations planning or already conducting offshore carbon storage.

"EDF views the investigation of offshore storage resources as an essential component of a comprehensive national mitigation plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," said Scott Anderson, senior policy adviser for EDF. "We do not expect to find any reason why this resource should not be considered for sequestration, provided the risks are appropriately identified and managed."

The Bureau of Economic Geology, through its Gulf Coast Carbon Center, has received more funding for carbon storage research than any other academic unit in the country, including an ongoing $34 million, multi-year field study of carbon storage and monitoring strategies in southwest Mississippi.

For more information, contact: Marc Airhart, College of Natural Sciences, 512 232 1066.

4 Comments to "University Receives $6 Million to Assess Carbon Storage Sites in Gulf of Mexico"

1.  moxiecat said on Oct. 8, 2009

Carbon/greenhouse gas is a political issue that will waste billions of dollars. Pollution is a real issue that must be addressed but global warming is paranoia-based anti-human rhetoric that will destroy economies, undermine science and make politicos and their friends very, very rich. We should all protest this waste of money and labor. It should instead be put to better use, say for instance, to offset the debilitating national debt.

2.  Jason said on Oct. 8, 2009

1) CO2 is a naturally occurring substance. (We exhale it and plants take it in.) So the problem with CO2 and its relationship to greenhouse gas emissions is the enormous amount produced by industrial production? That is, the amount is not natural?

2) If they store CO2, do they draw upon it for later use in some other type of production or just keep it in storage indefinitely?

3) Are there any impacts/side effects to keeping all of this gas underground (that is, this may be a dumb question, like a massive explosion one day of all the gases built up)?


3.  Richard Jurgena said on Oct. 13, 2009

Please don't tell me that my university has bought into this hoax about CO2 being bad for the world. Basic biology: Plants take in CO2 and release oxygen. The more CO2, the healthier and more plants, and the more oxygen for us. Studies have shown that in past years we have had five times as much CO2 in our atmosphere as we have now. If you want to take the money because it will help to pump CO2 into the ground or under the seabed to push out the oil, OK, but please do not help to perpetuate this hoax.

4.  Alan McKendree said on Jan. 6, 2010

Echoing the above comments. This grant is another in a long line of dollars (with many more in the pipeline) wasted on totally unneeded efforts to remake the economy into a "green" one. Huge numbers of people, including university researchers, see paychecks to be gained in studying how to suppress and sequester CO2 production, then implementing those measures. It's very significant that most of these dollars come from governmental agencies, who hand out tax money and don't need to make a profit doing it. The remainder of the revenue into the "green" economy comes from those who have been brainwashed into voluntarily spending more for "green" certified goods and services. All a waste, all a future laughingstock, but in a hard economy like this one there's every incentive -- except personal integrity -- to ignore contrary facts/science/opinions, take the money and RUN.