November 2022

Executive Viewpoint: Oil and gas at the forefront of carbon capture innovation

Oil and gas operators are uniquely positioned to not only provide the world’s energy but also provide the infrastructure needed to make carbon storage a reality.
Sushma Bhan / Ikon Science

Carbon capture and storage requires a lifecycle of analysis, from screening studies through to development, monitoring and abandonment—many elements of which are comparable to conventional hydrocarbon exploration and production workflows. Oil and gas operators are uniquely positioned to not only provide the world’s energy but also provide the infrastructure needed to make carbon storage a reality. 

An oil and gas rebound following the global pandemic has caused oil prices to reach the highest they’ve been in six years. With that, the industry is witnessing continued capital discipline and new, more sustainable technologies that are helping the oil and gas sector provide needed supplies in more efficient and environmentally friendly ways.  

Ensuring global energy security and a reliable energy supply requires oil and gas—not only as a part of a multi-source energy mix but also as the conduit to create much-needed carbon capture, its utilization and efficient storage (CCUS) infrastructure for alternative energy sources. The oil and gas industry has made significant investments in amassing detailed subsurface information over several decades.  

Successful exploration and production activities hinge upon subsurface data, guiding operational decisions over the life of a company’s wells. Tradition holds that as wells near the end of their lives and production slows or stops, those wells are subsequently shut and abandoned, and the accompanying subsurface data are set aside. The extremely expensive process of decommissioning wells used to be inevitable for operators; however, digital solutions are breathing new life with new revenue streams into old wells with a new purpose. 

In most cases, when the production cycle ends and all usable hydrocarbons have been extracted, the top side facilities are dismantled, the wellbore is permanently plugged and abandoned, and the surrounding land or seabed is returned to its natural condition. Historically, this complex, multi-step process has been costly for oil and gas businesses, requiring monumental investments that grow even higher for offshore and deepwater fields.  

The promise of CCUS. However, now that the CCUS industry is aggressively expanding, operators are presented with the possibility of turning decommissioned wells into a sustainable, profitable business by selling CO2 storage capacity to others. CO2 storage is a crucial component of the CCUS value chain, as permanently storing CO2 is the cornerstone of large-scale emissions reductions. The storage process entails capturing, compressing, and injecting CO2 into a reservoir of porous rock beneath an impermeable layer of cap rock, which functions as a seal. The cap rock prevents the CO2 from reaching the surface, as do other trapping mechanisms including structural, residual, solubility, and mineral trapping. As a result, CO2 is stored safely in geological formations. This is analogous to the unexplored state of oil and gas reserves trapped underground for millions of years.  

Carbon storage processes are not a new concept in the oil and gas industry. As part of normal well operations, operators routinely perform the CO2 injection enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technique. If CO2 returns to the surface and is separated and then reinjected to form a closed loop when utilizing this EOR method, this results in permanent CO2 storage, which strongly supports the viability for repurposing mature decommissioned wells.  

Unlocking data for CCUS. With over two decades of subsurface and wells data expertise and the experience of working with a myriad of oil companies, Ikon Science deeply understands the geophysical and geological when it comes to wells and has been part of multiple projects to determine the suitability and feasibility of CCUS for specific geographies, both onshore and offshore. While oil and gas companies possess incredible volumes of rich data, they are often inaccessible or incomplete. Rich data are often locked within silos inside different departments that are inaccessible across an enterprise, hiding critical information regarding wells’ suitability for CCUS.  

Likewise, incomplete well data create dangerous blind spots for determining a well’s ability to hold CO2 long-term. Additionally, qualified and skilled data experts are required to properly evaluate and, if necessary, supplement subsurface information to reach a reliable, accurate determination of a well’s suitability to be repurposed for CCUS initiatives. 

Ikon contributed to a high-level evaluation of pilot storage caverns in a study coordinated by Wood, a global leader in consulting and engineering. Ikon collaborated with an independent engineering and technology development/implementation firm to provide due diligence, data review and validation for a multi-location Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) project to store excess electricity generated by wind farms. Determining the viability of the subsurface in question was pivotal to the initiative’s success. 

Offshore, Ikon joined a consortium of 20 organizations to evaluate the potential for well reuse in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS). Ikon’s RokDoc software program was used to analyze a selection of regional wells, as well as those that drilled through a specific reservoir location to accurately evaluate the subsurface and verify the suitability of those wells for both reuse and CO2 injection and storage. As several wells lacked comprehensive pressure data measurements, due to the targeting of deeper carboniferous-aged reservoirs, our Southern North Sea Well Database was used to examine regional wells within the same reservoir and fault block to fill in missing data. This approach enabled us to generate an efficient, accurate determination of each well’s reuse potential.  

Determining a well’s economic and physical practicality for CCUS reuse is impactful for oil and gas companies in very important ways. It enables oil and gas companies to minimize their own carbon footprints to meet stakeholders’ calls for greater sustainability. It also creates a potential new source of revenue to offset the extraordinary expense of decommissioning. Additionally, it fosters the development of the important CCUS infrastructure, which alternative energy sources currently lack. As the energy industry expands and transforms, the oil and gas sector continues to be a trailblazer that creates and adopts innovative solutions for managing carbon footprints to meet the world’s pressing energy needs. 

About the Authors
Sushma Bhan
Ikon Science
Sushma Bhan SUSHMA BHAN joined the Ikon Science board in 2021. Prior to joining Ikon, she was Chief Data Officer, Subsurface and Wells, at Shell Oil, where she developed business data and digital strategies. She successfully led and implemented global subsurface and wells data improvements resulting in millions of dollars in cost-savings and valued outcomes in Wells, Reservoir and Facility Management (WRFM). Ms. Bhan’s three-decade Shell career encompassed various roles, including General Manager of Technical Data, Manager of Data Management & Geomatics, Information Manager of Shell R&D, Discipline Chief of Information Management, Shell Chemicals’ Global IT Manager, and E-Commerce Business Manager for Equilon (Shell-Texaco Alliance). She is the recipient of numerous awards and holds an MS degree from University of Delhi and an Executive MBA from University of Houston. Ms. Bhan was appointed as the Chair of Data Science and Engineering Analytics for SPE in August 2022 for a three-year term.
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