There’s been a lot of different ideas tossed around for dealing with the excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and one of them has been to capture it and pump it underground where it’ll be trapped, supposedly, forever. As an added bonus it can been used to force the last drops of oil from older reservoirs.
But I’ve always wondered if the claim that the gas would be trapped forever is really true. Surely there could be situations where pumping huge amounts of CO2 would end up causing more problems than it solves. Life tends to be like that. There are no perfect solutions.
It looks like that may indeed be the case for one Canadian couple:
Cameron and Jane Kerr own nine quarter-sections of land above the Weyburn oilfield in eastern Saskatchewan. They released a consultant’s report Tuesday that links high concentrations of carbon dioxide in their soil to 6,000 tonnes of the gas injected underground every day by energy giant Cenovus (TSX:CVE) in an attempt to enhance oil recovery and fight climate change.
“We knew, obviously, there was something wrong,” said Jane Kerr.
A Cenovus spokeswoman said the company doubts those findings. She pointed out they contradict years of research from other scientists.
“It’s not what we believe,” said Rhona Delfrari.
Now, to be fair to the energy company, this process has been in use since 1972 and there are literally tens of thousands of wells that make use of it.
That said, if what the news article claims is happening turns out to be true, then it looks like this may be a situation where things have gone very wrong:
Since 2000, Cenovus has injected about 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide underground to force more oil from an aging field and safely store greenhouse gases that would otherwise contribute to climate change.
But in 2005, the Kerrs began noticing algae blooms, clots of foam and multicoloured scum in two ponds at the bottom of a gravel quarry on their land. Sometimes, the ponds bubbled. Small animals — cats, rabbits and goats — were regularly found dead a few metres away.
The water, said Jane Kerr, came out of the ground carbonated.
“It would fizz and foam.”
Then there were the explosions.
“At night we could hear this sort of bang like a cannon going off,” said Jane Kerr, 58. “We’d go out and check the gravel pit and, in the walls, it (had) blown a hole in the side and there would be all this foaming coming out of this hole.”
Now I’m no expert, but when there’s carbonated water exploding out the ground and lab tests of the soil are averaging about 23,000 parts per million (with a peak of 110,607 ppm) I’d say that the Kerrs might have a pretty strong argument.
Of course if it turns out that the gas is leaking out of the ground then the company could be in for a world of hurt so it’s not surprising they’re reluctant to admit a problem is even possible. That shouldn’t be an excuse for them to abdicate their responsibility and hopefully the Kerrs will have their claims validated and addressed before the ecological damage is overwhelming.
Simply because it’s worked in other parts of the world doesn’t mean it’ll work everywhere. If the environment isn’t suitable then the practice should be halted.