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LCE-27-2017 - Measuring, monitoring and controlling the potential risks of subsurface operations related to CCS and unconventional hydrocarbons

An integrated R&D project to gain a better understanding of the possible risks related to CCS and the exploration and exploitation of unconventional hydrocarbons. Focus should be on the detection and monitoring of induced seismicity and stray gases (CO2 and natural gas), and on the mitigation and remediation of their possible negative impacts. A comprehensive R&D programme should combine laboratory experiments, modelling and short- and longer-term field investigations that could include observation wells for the deployment of monitoring equipment. The drilling of exploration and production wells, hydraulic fracturing or other well stimulation and intentional subsurface release of fluids or gases to the groundwater or the atmosphere are strictly outside the scope of this topic.

Issues to be addressed include:

  • Characterisation and lab testing of well seals, analysis of possible leakage pathways and rates, their time-related evolution as well as the mitigation of leakage;
  • Geochemical and microbial interactions with host rocks, overburden, engineered seals such as cement and casing, groundwater, soil and biodiversity;
  • Significantly improved detection limits for CO2, natural gas and natural or human-introduced substances (e.g. metals, chemicals, organic compounds) that may be released through subsurface operations;
  • Determination and validation of the optimal spatial and temporal resolution of a wide range of monitoring techniques, including for microseismicity;
  • Sophisticated, scientifically robust method for determining natural background concentrations of CO2 and natural gas in the soil and at the surface, and for distinguishing between biogenic and thermogenic methane emissions;
  • Development of groundwater remediation methods and protocols;

The project should establish the following:

  • One or more field sites for the deployment of a comprehensive suite of detection and monitoring methods (geophysical, seismic, chemical, biological, surface and subsurface, …);
  • A programme for international cooperation to improve and cross-validate highly sophisticated detection and monitoring technologies for subsurface diffusion of CO2 and natural gas and other substances that may be released through subsurface operations. Focus should be on cooperation and networking with comparable projects in the US and Canada, including the exchange of researchers;
  • A well-documented contribution to the establishment of best practices for baselining, monitoring, mitigation and remediation methods and technologies;
  • A continuous training programme for researchers and students.

The project should take into account the on-going development by the Commission of a Best Available Techniques (BAT) Guidance document on upstream hydrocarbon exploration and production[[]] as well as the results of relevant EU supported studies and projects[[]].

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) have to be taken on board in all areas of H2020. In the context of this topic, this includes multi-actor and public engagement in research and innovation, enabling easier access to scientific results, the take up of ethics in the research and innovation content and process, and formal and informal science education.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 5 and 10 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. This does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts. Industry participation is strongly encouraged to facilitate access to existing sites and data, and to allow extending the operating period of the research infrastructure beyond the project duration. In order to allow a timely use of the results, the duration of the project itself should ideally be limited to 3 years.

The project should take account of the review of the effectiveness of the Commission Recommendation of 22 January 2014 on minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons (2014/70/EU) (such as shale gas) using high-volume hydraulic fracturing. For the purpose of any testing and demonstration activities, proposals should clearly describe how the project will comply with all relevant environmental legislation, in particular the Water Framework Directive[[Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy]], the enforcement of which is the responsibility of permitting authorities in the concerned Member States.

Geo-energy applications such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), the development of unconventional hydrocarbons (in particular shale gas) and to some extent also geothermal operations, can have an impact on the subsurface. Consequently, advanced and cost effective monitoring is vital for the sustainable management of the subsurface and its resources.

In CCS, continuous and sophisticated monitoring, imaging and control of the growth of the CO2 plume is a prerequisite for the safe and sustainable storage of significant volumes of CO2 in the subsurface. In addition, CO2 injection in CCS but also water (re-)injection in geothermal operations may lead to induced seismicity.

Recently, the development of unconventional hydrocarbon resources - in particular shale gas - has resulted in new opportunities, but also bears environmental and public health risks, which need to be better understood, monitored, managed and communicated appropriately. These risks relate mainly to water pollution (in particular stemming from insufficient underground characterisation, inappropriate well casing, the use of chemicals in the fracking process, and waste management), but also air emissions, induced seismicity and local impacts linked to transport, land and water use.

Research is needed to better understand and quantify possible (natural and engineered) leakage pathways for CO2 and natural gas, the rates of leakage into aquifers and escape at surface, the impacts that leakage can have on fresh groundwater resources, soil and biodiversity, and the time frame in which emissions will return to baseline values. The effective detection and quantification of leakage requires a scientifically robust method for determining natural background concentrations of CO2 and natural gas in the soil and at the surface. Uniform, unbiased and independent data are needed to manage and mitigate the risks of subsurface geo-energy related operations.

Projects should deliver the unbiased and independent scientific evidence to assist policy making for CCS and unconventional hydrocarbons development. This topic is expected to provide European and (in particular) North American researchers, industry and policymakers with a platform to enhance and deepen transatlantic dialogue on environmental issues related to CCS and unconventional hydrocarbons development, to accelerate learning and to provide advanced training. Connecting pilots and projects across the Atlantic should bring the benefits of cross-validation of technologies, sharing results, distributing tasks, bundling expertise and expanding professional networks. For optimal impact, the research and training infrastructure should ideally remain available and operational beyond the duration of the EU support.