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Detection and impacts of leakage from sub-seafloor deep geological carbon dioxide storage



Fossil fuel power generation and other industrial emissions of carbon dioxide are a threat to global climate1, yet many economies will remain reliant on these technologies for several decades2. Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) in deep geological formations provides an effective option to remove these emissions from the climate system3. In many regions storage reservoirs are located offshore4,5, over a kilometre or more below societally important shelf seas6. Therefore, concerns about the possibility of leakage7,8 and potential environmental impacts, along with economics, have contributed to delaying development of operational CCS. Here we investigate the detectability and environmental impact of leakage from a controlled sub-seabed release of CO2. We show that the biological impact and footprint of this small leak analogue (<1 tonne CO2 d−1) is confined to a few tens of metres. Migration of CO2 through the shallow seabed is influenced by near-surface sediment structure, and by dissolution and re-precipitation of calcium carbonate naturally present in sediments. Results reported here advance the understanding of environmental sensitivity to leakage and identify appropriate monitoring strategies for full-scale carbon storage operations.

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Figure 1: Seismic reflection profiles and seabed mapping illustrating gas pathways above the CO2 diffuser.
Figure 2: Gas injection rate, hydrophone-determined seabed flux, and carbonate system variations in the water column over multiple tidal cycles during the later stages of injection.
Figure 3: Temporal evolution of dissolved carbonate system parameters in sediment pore water at the injection site (zone 1).
Figure 4: A multi-dimensional (MDS) plot comparing temporal changes in benthic macrofaunal community structure at the release site with the reference sites.

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Funding was provided by NERC (NE/H013962/1), the Scottish Government and METI/MEXT of Japan. We thank the Tralee Bay Holiday Park, Lochnell Estates and the inhabitants of Benderloch for hosting the experiment. We acknowledge Marine Scotland and The Crown Estate for permissions to carry out the research. The NERC National Facility for Scientific Diving, the crew of the RV Seol Mara and J. Montgomery based at SAMS provided operational support. We thank A. Skinner of ACS coring services for advice on the drilling, and the design of the well screen; J. Davis for support of geophysical data acquisition; C. Wallace of Kongsberg Ltd for provision and processing of the multibeam bathymetry data; J. Gafiera (BGS) for interpretation of site survey seismic profiles and A. Monaghan (BGS) for construction of 3D geological models.

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R.H.J., D.C., H.S., S.W., K.S., A.L., P.T., J.K., C.H., K.T., M.S. and M.H. designed and undertook biogeochemical measurements and analysed data; M.C., M.E.V., I.W., D.L., D.S., J.M.B. and M.A. planned, acquired and interpreted seismic reflection data; T.G.L., P.R.W. and B.J.P.B. designed and undertook passive acoustic measurements, analysed data and completed gas flux inversion; T.M.G. analysed and interpreted core data; B.C. analysed bubble dynamics from bottom photographs; M.D.J.S. led the diving deployment and sampling strategy; B.C., H.K. and T.S. developed models to constrain the experimental deployment; D.L., D.S. and M.A. developed the concept, design and implementation of the borehole and gas delivery mechanism; H.S., P.T. and M.N. designed and built the CO2 injection facility; H.S. led and coordinated the release and sampling strategy; J.B., H.S., I.W., R.H.J., J. K., B.C., C.H., S.W. and M.N. conceived the study; J.B. led the project; D.S., B.J.P.B., M.C. and A.L. produced figures within the manuscript; J.B., H.S. and J.M.B. developed and co-wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jerry Blackford, Henrik Stahl or Jonathan M. Bull.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Blackford, J., Stahl, H., Bull, J. et al. Detection and impacts of leakage from sub-seafloor deep geological carbon dioxide storage. Nature Clim Change 4, 1011–1016 (2014).

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