Dispelling controversy at the Weyburn geologic carbon dioxide storage project

Recent press reports call attention to complaints by a local family that Canadian government agencies and the operator of the Weyburn carbon dioxide storage project in Saskatchewan, Canada have not responded satisfactorily to requests for investigation of apparent chemical contamination of their property. CO2 has been injected into the Weyburn oil field since 2000 (see here and here).

While a group of governmental and academic institutions have conducted extensive monitoring of this project over the last decade, with all information indicating the injected CO2 has not leaked from the underground trapping formation, the complaints of the family warrant a prompt and thorough inquiry by independent experts, as well as the publication of the results of such an investigation.

In addition to legitimate private interests of the local property owners, there is considerable public interest in a prompt and adequate reponse to the concerns reflected in the press reports. Underground CO2 injection is a technology that is still in relative infancy. While broad scientific consensus on geologic trapping indicates that large volumes of CO2 can be safely injected and permanently retained in deep underground formations, and the track records of the small number of large-scale monitored projects has reinforced this (Weyburn being one of these projects), public confidence in this technology is not well-established.

The way to build that confidence is for both private operators and governmental bodies to be ready to respond promptly to reports of contamination near CO2 injection projects with available data documenting the location of injected CO2. Further, these organizations must support a thorough independent assessment of such reports when available information does not immediately establish that no leakage has occurred. That is what we recommend should be done in response to the claims of contamination near the Weyburn site.