Carbon Storage Atlas

The Southwest Regional Partnership on Carbon Sequestration


Project Highlights

  • Because of intensive oil production in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico, the Southwest region, unlike other regions of the country, is dominated by oil and gas fields. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) is very much a salient storage option in the Southwest and carbon dioxide (CO2) enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is an accepted technology.

  • Unlike other regions, the Southwest region contains many natural CO2 reservoirs, including McElmo Dome, Bravo Dome, Sheep Mountain, Farnham Dome, and others. These sites not only provided source options for EOR in the region, but also provided invaluable insight as natural analogs.

  • Carbon dioxide (both natural and anthropogenic) is utilized for many different applications throughout the world, including EOR. Anthropogenic sources that are used in EOR include CO2 from gas processing, ethanol production, and fertilizer plants in the region.

  • Unlike other regions, the existing CO2 pipeline networks in the Southwest region are extensive. They provided not only CO2 source options for the Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration (SWP), but also tangible and relevant interstate transportation regulatory guidance.

  • In addition to extensive oil, gas, and deep saline options, the Southwest region is also home to extensive coal seams, exhibiting a range of coal properties (varying water and gas contents, as well as varying coal quality). SWP tested one of the “best” coal seams for enhanced coalbed methane (ECBM) and CCUS in the United States, the Fruitland Formation in the San Juan Basin. A Phase II coalbed methane (CBM)-EOR project showed that CBM-EOR is problematic for CO2 storage. The project started with more than enough injectivity for the intended 75,000 metric tons of CO2 but lost approximately 90% of the injectivity in less than one year.




Several surprising results became clear during Phase II and Phase III:

  • Modification of agricultural (tillage) and other surface management practices could increase terrestrial carbon dioxide (CO2) storage potential only a nominal amount, and the total amount of storage potential (resource) is a small fraction of that offered by geologic storage.

  • Even the “best” coal seams with low water content and high methane content are subject to extensive swelling and permeability reduction following enhanced coalbed methane (ECBM) for carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), rendering ECBM as a low-tier option for storage compared to oil, gas, and brine reservoirs.

  • The amount of CO2 dissolution by oil in hydrocarbon reservoirs can exceed 25%, which is comparatively huge next to aqueous dissolution. When this mode of storage was examined directly and in detail, the Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration (SWP) was surprised by the magnitude of its impact.

  • Risk factors for projects were more often related to operational and management decisions and pressures (field sales, economics, regulatory issues not related to CO2 injection) than to the technical risks that were initially identified by researchers.



Advice for Storage Operators


The most significant advice that the Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration (SWP) could give to a new storage operator is to exploit oil fields first, gas fields second, deep brine reservoirs third, terrestrial storage fourth, and surface mineral storage (via catalysts or otherwise) last. The first two offer infrastructure plus the advantage of higher data density from production and exploration. Ideally, carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) in oil fields, followed by deep brine storage in formations below the oil field, would be the best approach with respect to practical operations (existing infrastructure), monitoring opportunities (existing infrastructure), social acceptance (communities benefiting from oil and gas typically accept the presence), and regulatory requirements (brownfield status).

Another piece of advice would be to understand carbon dioxide (CO2) sources and potential problems. Source issues may include seasonal variations, ownership, potential process changes, maintenance schedules (planned or emergency repairs), rights-of-way, economic changes, and plant upgrades. Even natural sources are subject to some of these concerns.

New storage operators should also be aware of the impact of large-scale economic and government policy changes on a project, and should make sure that contracts cover contingencies. Economic and policy changes can affect the cost and availability of either natural or anthropogenic CO2. Changes to the storage ownership may change the way that fields are managed or the operational objectives.

Lastly, characterization is important. New storage operators should understand the geology of the reservoir. Factors such as the presence of faults, heterogeneity, significant permeability barriers, and/or conformance changes in the reservoir can have a huge impact on both storage potential and the effectiveness of any enhanced oil recovery (EOR) efforts in CCUS. Tracer tests have had surprising results for both Phase II (Aneth) and Phase III (Farnsworth) projects that have implications for how best the fields might be operated for storage. The accuracy of predictions is directly related to the understanding of the reservoir.


Project Outreach


Click each subheading below for more information on specific types of outreach performed by the Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration (SWP).

Public outreach has varied in scope over the course of SWP’s lifetime. Early efforts focused on outreach initiation and assessment of public perception, as well as design of an SWP website. Early workshops and townhalls informed stakeholders and was also directed towards understanding the current public perception of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) in the region. With time, there was increased focus on communication of information about the project, goals, potential CCUS sites, scientific findings, and more. This was done through SWP’s website, face-to-face presentations, development of information packets, and virtual townhall meetings.

These activities continued into Phase II, but added a collaboration between the Research Experience in Carbon Sequestration (RECS) Program to provide an intensive summer carbon capture and storage (CCS) education and training experience for graduate students and young professionals. The program was hosted for three years in New Mexico. SWP also developed additional teacher training materials, and worked with a group of faculty to develop academic programs and curricula with the SWP CCUS Training Center. SWP also developed a safety presentation derived from safety trainings at three Phase II field sites that could be used for many other field sites.

Vertical seismic profile (VSP) survey being conducted by Schlumberger Q-Borehole Explorer vibrator truck at the Farnsworth Unit.

Vertical seismic profile (VSP) survey being conducted by Schlumberger Q-Borehole Explorer vibrator truck at the Farnsworth Unit.

Each field project in Phase II and III required outreach to numerous permitting agencies. Experiences gained through these interactions helped inform input for various collaborative efforts. Work with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) Carbon Capture and Geologic Storage (CCGS) Task Force helped to produce a summary of states’ efforts at developing laws and regulations regarding geologic storage of carbon dioxide (CO2). The summary was used to help develop a model framework (IOGCC Model Statute and Rules), which, if adopted, would produce a substantially consistent system for regulation of the geologic storage of CO2.

All phases of the SWP project used typical outreach methods of presentations and publications in professional and technical meetings and journals, presentations at non-technical events, and networking through contacts with industry, regulators, and working groups associated with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) and the Western Governors Association. During Phase III, SWP was an active participant in development and writing of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)/National Energy Technology Laboratory’s (NETL) Outreach Best Practices Manual (BPM).

Lessons learned from outreach included: Regions vary – SWP is in an area where oil and gas production are valued industries, and carbon dioxide (CO2)-enhanced oil recovery (EOR) is already an accepted practice. While this helps with public perception, regulatory agencies still need help and education to deal with carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). Local stakeholders can be very important, and neither research projects nor commercial projects should neglect the value of keeping regular and two-way communication between all parties, including local landowners and community members, field partners, corporate partners, and regulatory agencies.


Project Commercialization


Click each subheading below for more information on the commercialization of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration (SWP) successfully completed three carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) demonstrations, including two enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and one enhanced coalbed methane (ECBM) project, and is now in the final stages of its fourth CCUS project. Given the regional emphasis on oil and gas production and its poor prospects for terrestrial storage, carbon dioxide (CO2)-EOR is likely to be the most successful and attractive means of carbon storage in much of the region. SWP focused much of its effort on identifying sources of uncertainty and quantification of those uncertainties and associated risks; the methods developed by SWP may be applied to any other discipline. Additionally, rigorous evaluation of three-phase multiphase flow systems benefits not only the CCUS research community, but also existing and future oil/gas operators. Ultimately, these accomplishments are intended to address the major technical challenges to commercial CCS.

While the Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration (SWP) results led to the recommendation of oil, then gas, then brine reservoirs as sinks, the project’s results also led to recommendations for which sources to address. Specifically, ethanol plants and fertilizer plants are probably the “easiest” carbon dioxide (CO2) sources to address, followed by natural gas-fired power plants and coal-fired power plants, simply due to the cost of capture associated with each. SWP has shown the validity of using anthropogenic CO2 in its Phase III demonstration in northern Texas, which utilizes both an ethanol plant and a fertilizer plant for its all-anthropogenic CO2 sources. Ultimately, this demonstration is intended to provide a direct blueprint for the “fastest path” to CO2 mitigation: (1) capture from ethanol/fertilizer plants, with (2) injection and storage in an oil field.

The shale oil and gas boom resulting from newer processes, such as horizontal drilling and intensive hydraulic fracturing, has significantly affected the SWP region. The current emphasis is on producing more oil and gas at lower cost, and at least in the near-term the region is the major player in hydrocarbon energy production. Even in an area used to oil and gas production, these changes have brought heightened concerns over issues such as emissions (flaring/venting), groundwater contamination, and induced seismicity from the injection of produced waters. The SWP project has provided more scientific validation of the viability of CO2 mitigation through storage and enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The Farnsworth (Phase III) demonstration has used 100% anthropogenic CO2, a large percentage of which is recycled and stored. All of the SWP field sites have performed significant amounts of groundwater monitoring and none have indicated that CO2 injection causes contamination. Monitoring of CO2 in the system has shown very little loss to flaring, usually only when compressors are down for maintenance. Thus, SWP’s work has addressed, at least in part, some of the major concerns that might arise in a commercial carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) operation.

The use of anthropogenic CO2 for CCUS in the region also shows much promise for an approach to CO2 mitigation that would work well in terms of regional acceptance. Most naturally occurring CO2 sources currently used in EOR are under decline and that CO2 will need to be made up in some way; the capacity is already supply-limited. There are many mature fields that could produce more oil under tertiary recovery and every successful CO2 flood, particularly one that has had such extensive monitoring, verification, and accounting (MVA) as Farnsworth, increases the acceptance.

Pumpjack and sunset at the Farnsworth Unit.

Pumpjack and sunset at the Farnsworth Unit.

To date, 45Q has had little impact on actual operations of the Southwest Partnership on Carbon Sequestration (SWP) Phase III demonstration in Texas. However, SWP outreach efforts have garnered much more interest since passage of the new 45Q legislation in February 2018. Direct feedback from stakeholders reveal that interest in the tax benefits of carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) offered by 45Q, and especially the changed thresholds with respect to minimum capture required, may be enough incentive to push more CCUS commercialization projects forward..