Sand has a habit of getting into all the worst places, as major gas producer Chevron has discovered, with sand hampering the operation of Australia’s only working carbon capture and storage project, which could result in increased greenhouse gas emissions from the Gorgon LNG project.
The Gorgon LNG project, located off the Western Australian coast, is set to cut back the amount of carbon dioxide it will attempt to store under the sea, after pumping equipment experienced significant issues with sand contamination.
Documents obtained by independent energy news outlet Boiling Cold through a freedom of information request show that the Gorgon carbon capture and storage project has encountered a number of issues since it commenced the storage of carbon dioxide in 2019.
At the Gorgon site, Chevron is attempting to store up to 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, in an undersea deposit that is sealed by a layer of sandstone. The project is intended to capture as much as 80 per cent of the Gorgon LNG project’s direct greenhouse gas emissions, which has the capacity to produce up to 15.6 million metric tons per year of liquified natural gas.
To facilitate the storage of the carbon dioxide, Chevron must first remove water from the undersea deposit known as the ‘Dupuy Formation’ – however Chevron has discovered that a ‘significant volume of sand’ is preventing this water from being extracted.
“It is now thought likely the loss of injectivity in the water injection wells is primarily due to the presence of significant volumes of sand being produced from the Dupuy Formation,” Chevron said in a project report.
“It is yet to be confirmed whether sand production is likely to be a long-term issue. If sand production is found to be [a] persistent issue it is possible changes to the surface facilities may be required.”
The issues were detailed in an annual report Chevron is required to provide to the federal government under the Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund, which has provided the project $60 million in funding. Documents show that all of this funding was provided to the project before the first volumes of carbon dioxide were successfully stored.
Until the issue can be resolved, Chevron’s ability to store carbon dioxide in the undersea deposit is diminished, with increased levels of pressure required to inject the greenhouse gas at the project.
Chevron also reported that more than 800 “micro-seismic” events had been detected at the site, with the frequency of the seismic events increasing upon the commencement of the carbon injection activities.
The project has already faced a sizeable delays in the commencement of carbon dioxide capture, with the Gorgon project running around three years behind schedule, and Western Australian authorities refusing to issue a waiver for carbon emissions the project failed to capture.
Some estimates placed the potential cost of these delays at upwards of $100 million, with the Gorgon project failing to deliver upon a promised storage of 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, produced from Chevron’s LNG production facilities at the same site. Western Australian regulatory authorities have considered whether to require Chevron to procure carbon offsets to account for carbon emissions the project failed to store.
Chevron has spent more than $3 billion in the process of establishing the carbon capture and storage facility, the only commercial scale facility to commence operations in Australia, and is expected to store around 100 million tonnes of emissions over the project’s life.
The Morrison government has identified carbon capture and storage technologies as a priority technology under its Technology Investment Roadmap, despite the lack of operating examples in Australia.
The government allocated $50 million in last year’s federal budget to support the development of carbon capture and storage projects and has sought to open up clean energy funding bodies, including the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, to provide further financial support to the technology.
Analysis has suggested that the addition of carbon capture and storage facilities to new coal and gas power stations could be significantly more expensive than the construction of new wind and solar projects.