NEW HAVEN, WV - Deep beneath much of the United
States lie rock formations containing waters far too
salty for human consumption. Long overlooked, these
brine-filled reservoirs are now attracting new interest
as possible "storage sites" for greenhouse gases emitted
from power plants.
Deep saline formations underlie much of the United
States including many areas where power plants are
concentrated. [Click on map for larger image.]
The U.S. Department of Energy has given the go-ahead
to a research team headed by American Electric Power (AEP)
and Battelle to begin studying potential sites in the
Ohio River Valley where carbon dioxide ? a greenhouse
gas emitted when coal and other fuels are burned ? might
one day be injected deep underground where it would
remain safely and permanently trapped.
AEP has volunteered its Mountaineer Plant in New
Haven, WV, along the Ohio-West Virginia border as the
test site for investigating the concept.
If the approach proves feasible, it could offer a way
for many electric and industrial plants to reduce
emissions believed to contribute to global climate
change. The AEP/Battelle project will be especially
important because it will take place in the heart of the
largest concentration of fossil fuel power plants in the
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced the new
"carbon sequestration" effort at a speech today before
the National Coal Council, an advisory panel to the
Department of Energy.
"Our goal is to develop a suite of carbon management
options that we know are safe, affordable, and
effective. We want to have these options ready should
the science tell us that large-scale carbon reductions
are necessary in the future," Abraham said.
Abraham said that if carbon sequestration ? the
capture and permanent storage of carbon gases ? proves
practical, it could help mitigate environmental concerns
regarding the use of coal. Coal supplies more than half
of the nation's electricity and is one of the reasons
why Americans benefit from some of the lowest cost
electricity in the world.
Theoretically, deep saline reservoirs, which underlie
all or part of 35 states, could hold all of the carbon
dioxide emitted from the nation's coal-burning power
plants over the next 100 years.
Beneath the Ohio-West Virginia border lies the
massive Mt. Simon Sandstone saline formation. Ranging
from 3,000 to 12,000 feet deep, this huge formation
extends as far as Illinois and Wisconsin. Several other
potential host reservoirs for carbon dioxide storage are
also in the area.
The project's current phase is expected to last 18
months. During this time, researchers will conduct a
seismic survey within a 5- to 10-mile radius of the
Mountaineer Plant to study the characteristics of the
underground rock formations. Early next year, a
10,000-foot well will be drilled on the plant property
to study the target area and overlying sediment layers
Data will be used for simulations, risk assessments,
permit applications, and to design the monitoring plans
for future stages of the effort if the site proves
geologically sound. No decision will be made on
proceeding beyond the current study phase until the
subsurface geology is deemed suitable for permanently
entrapping large quantities of carbon dioxide and cost
estimates are developed.
Using deep saline reservoirs for carbon dioxide
storage is attractive not only because the reservoirs
are common but because they are well below drinking
water aquifers. In the Ohio River Valley, drinking water
is typically produced from formations only 10 to 200
feet below ground, compared to the 3,000- to 12,000-foot
depths of the saline formations.
Geologists believe the distance between fresh water
and possible injection zones is so great and the
intervening rock layers so impervious to the upward
movement of carbon dioxide that the approach will pose
no hazard to drinking water. Indeed, a major question
the AEP/Battelle project hopes to answer is whether
rocks above possible "storage" areas are sturdy enough
and sufficiently free of interconnected fractures to
assure that the carbon dioxide cannot gradually escape.
The Department, through its National Energy
Technology Laboratory (NETL), is providing $3.2 million
of the project's total $4.2 million cost. Other partners
providing financial and in-kind support include AEP, BP,
Battelle, and Schlumberger. The Ohio Coal Development
Office, part of Ohio's Department of Development, is
also supporting the project. Results will lead to
significant improvements in understanding the geology of
potential carbon dioxide injection zones in southeastern
Ohio. Should coal-based power plants be required to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the future, the deep
injection concept could play a major role in preserving
jobs that these plants and Ohio coal mines support.
Technical support will be provided by experts from
NETL, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, West
Virginia University, the Ohio Division of Geological
Survey, The Ohio State University, and others.