Local capillary trapping in geological carbon storage



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After the injection of CO₂ into a subsurface formation, various storage mechanisms help immobilize the CO₂. Injection strategies that promote the buoyant movement of CO₂ during the post-injection period can increase immobilization by the mechanisms of dissolution and residual phase trapping. In this work, we argue that the heterogeneity intrinsic to sedimentary rocks gives rise to another category of trapping, which we call local capillary trapping. In a heterogeneous storage formation where capillary entry pressure of the rock is correlated with other petrophysical properties, numerous local capillary barriers exist and can trap rising CO₂ below them. The size of barriers depends on the correlation length, i.e., the characteristic size of regions having similar values of capillary entry pressure. This dissertation evaluates the dynamics of the local capillary trapping and its effectiveness to add an element of increased capacity and containment security in carbon storage in heterogeneous permeable media. The overall objective is to obtain the rigorous assessment of the amount and extent of local capillary trapping expected to occur in typical storage formations. A series of detailed numerical simulations are used to quantify the amount of local capillary trapping and to study the effect of local capillary barriers on CO₂ leakage from the storage formation. Also, a research code is developed for finding clusters of local capillary trapping from capillary entry pressure field based on the assumption that in post-injection period the viscous forces are negligible and the process is governed solely by capillary forces. The code is used to make a quantitative assessment of an upper bound for local capillary trapping capacity in heterogeneous domains using the geologic data, which is especially useful for field projects since it is very fast compared to flow simulation. The results show that capillary heterogeneity decreases the threshold capacity for non-leakable storage of CO₂. However, in cases where the injected volume is more than threshold capacity, capillary heterogeneity adds an element of security to the structural seal, regardless of how CO₂ is accumulated under the seal, either by injection or by buoyancy. In other words, ignoring heterogeneity gives the worst-case estimate of the risk. Nevertheless, during a potential leakage through failed seals, a range of CO₂ leakage amounts may occur depending on heterogeneity and the location of the leak. In geologic CO₂ storage in typical saline aquifers, the local capillary trapping can result in large volumes that are sufficiently trapped and immobilized. In fact, this behavior has significant implications for estimates of permanence of storage, for assessments of leakage rates, and for predicting ultimate consequences of leakage.