Gulf Coast Carbon Center’s Sponsors Meeting, February 2023

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By Tim Dixon

27 February 2023

The Gulf Coast Carbon Center (GCCC) is an industry-funded research programme run by the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin. The GCCC started in 1998 and has some 18 industry sponsors. This industry funding allows the GCCC to be leaders in the field, rather than followers, addressing future topics before they become issues (in a similar way to IEAGHG). The GCCC’s scientists and engineers conduct research studies on the geological storage, monitoring and modelling of CO2 in the subsurface, undertake stakeholder outreach, and over the years have enabled companies to develop a viable CCUS industry, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico region but also around the world. They operate on a forward-looking basis, always looking 4-years ahead in the scale-up and deployment of CCUS and anticipating issues and research needs. In terms of field work this includes organising the first onshore test injection into a saline formation known as the Frio Brine Pilot Experiment in 2004, and GCCC have been responsible for monitoring the geological storage of CO2 for the large-scale Port Arthur and Petra Nova CCUS projects and have supported the monitoring in other projects around the world. With the stimuli provided by the U.S.’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, there are many CCUS and DACCS projects in development in the U.S. and GCCC are involved with many.

In this Sponsors’ Meeting they presented updates of their work in five themes: Optimizing storage in space and time; Business enablers; Getting the message out on CCS; Providing storage assurance; and “Hunting success – where next?”. As the U.S. ramps up in terms of developing CCUS projects, the GCCC is actively engaged in assisting with the permitting for these projects and also offshore regulatory developments. For example, they are gathering very useful data and learnings from the permitting of similar activities. A key theme in the U.S. government’s support for the clean energy transition is the topic of environmental justice (EJ) and societal considerations and impacts (SCI). These topics are also being included in the GCCC program to assist with permitting.

The GCCC work includes running training programs to “repurpose” the subsurface skills of oil and gas industry professional for CCUS operations. Also, their work developing capacity maps based upon geological pressure space region is assisting companies in the identification of future storage sites in the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore, the Gulf of Mexico has some unique environmental characteristics compared to the North Sea for example, and offshore storage monitoring has to take into account of these. Several GCCC studies now involve machine-learning, for example to assist with the processing of greater amounts of data.

As I listened to the interesting questions from the sponsor companies, I realised that many of the individuals were active in the process of developing projects and facing issues such as with Class VI permitting, so very much ‘reality-based’ perspectives and questions, which the GCCC are assisting with.

I was invited to give the keynote talk on the topic of “hot topics”, which was an interesting challenge given the forward-looking nature of GCCC program. So, after consulting across the IEAGHG team and considering a non-US perspective, I spoke on the current issues of CO2 stream specifications in Europe, on storage in basalts, on CCUS in India, on CCUS investment incentives and flows US and EU, and on developments with Paris Agreement’s Article 6.

The meeting included visits to the pilot amine capture plant at the University of Texas, and the Texas State’s Core Research Center to see a new core of a prospective storage formation.

Overall, it was most interesting to see the updates from the GCCC program and in the company of CCUS project developers. 

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