Theses Doctoral

Carbon Sequestration in Unconventional Reservoirs: Geophysical, Geochemical and Geomechanical Considerations

Zakharova, Natalia

In the face of the environmental challenges presented by the acceleration of global warming, carbon capture and storage, also called carbon sequestration, may provide a vital option to reduce anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, while meeting the world's energy demands. To operate on a global scale, carbon sequestration would require thousands of geologic repositories that could accommodate billions of tons of carbon dioxide per year. In order to reach such capacity, various types of geologic reservoirs should be considered, including unconventional reservoirs such as volcanic rocks, fractured formations, and moderate-permeability aquifers. Unconventional reservoirs, however, are characterized by complex pore structure, high heterogeneity, and intricate feedbacks between physical, chemical and mechanical processes, and their capacity to securely store carbon emissions needs to be confirmed.
In this dissertation, I present my contribution toward the understanding of geophysical, geochemical, hydraulic, and geomechanical properties of continental basalts and fractured sedimentary formations in the context of their carbon storage capacity. The data come from two characterization projects, in the Columbia River Flood Basalt in Washington and the Newark Rift Basin in New York, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnerships and TriCarb Consortium for Carbon Sequestration. My work focuses on in situ analysis using borehole geophysical measurements that allow for detailed characterization of formation properties on the reservoir scale and under nearly unaltered subsurface conditions.
The immobilization of injected CO₂ by mineralization in basaltic rocks offers a critical advantage over sedimentary reservoirs for long-term CO₂ storage. Continental flood basalts, such as the Columbia River Basalt Group, possess a suitable structure for CO₂ storage, with extensive reservoirs in the interflow zones separated by massive impermeable basalt in flow interiors. Other large igneous provinces and ocean floor basalts could accommodate centuries' worth of world's CO₂ emissions. Low-volume basaltic flows and fractured intrusives may potentially serve as smaller-scale CO₂ storage targets. However, as illustrated by the example of the Palisade sill in the Newark basin, even densely fractured intrusive basalts are often impermeable, and instead may serve as caprock for underlying formations.
Hydraulic properties of fractured formations are very site-specific, but observations and theory suggest that the majority of fractures at depth remain closed. Hydraulic tests in the northern Newark basin indicate that fractures introduce strong anisotropy and heterogeneity to the formation properties, and very few of them augment hydraulic conductivity of these fractured formations. Overall, they are unlikely to provide enough storage capacity for safe CO₂ injection at large scales, but can be suitable for small-scale controlled experiments and pilot injection tests.
The risk of inducing earthquakes by underground injection has emerged as one of the primary concerns for large-scale carbon sequestration, especially in fractured and moderately permeable formations. Analysis of in situ stress and distribution of fractures in the subsurface are important steps for evaluating the risks of induced seismicity. Preliminary results from the Newark basin suggest that local stress perturbation may potentially create favorable stress conditions for CO₂ sequestration by allowing a considerable pore pressure increase without carrying large risks of fault reactivation. Additional in situ stress data are needed, however, to accurately constrain the magnitude of the minimum horizontal stress, and it is recommended that such tests be conducted at all potential CO₂ storage sites.


  • thumnail for Zakharova_columbia_0054D_12299.pdf Zakharova_columbia_0054D_12299.pdf application/pdf 18.8 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Goldberg, David S.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 6, 2014