North Dakota CarbonSAFE

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The CarbonSAFE project is assessing the potential for permanently storing CO2 in three sandstone layers. Collecting rock samples (cores) is part of the site characterization process.

North Dakota CarbonSAFE is assesing permanent, commercial-scale geologic storage of carbon dioxide to manage CO2 emissions from coal-based energy facilities—the storage in carbon capture and storage (CCS). The project is part of an ongoing effort to ensure reliable, affordable energy and the wise use of North Dakota's resources. The feasibility study did not involve CO2 injection.

What Is North Dakota CarbonSAFE Doing?

The project began by drilling two deep exploratory holes—one in Oliver County and one in Mercer County—to better understand the geology that could be used for safe, permanent storage of CO2. The rock layers examined lie about 6000 feet below the surface. The exploratory holes allowed researchers to collect geologic core samples, water, and other rock layer data deep underground. After the data collection was completed, the holes were plugged with cement and the land restored in accordance with state and federal regulations. The samples were studied in our laboratories to determine their characteristics and ability to hold CO2 permanently. That information and the other data collected from the fieldwork have guided the development of computer-based geologic modeling and simulation scenarios. ND CarbonSAFE also investigated economic feasibility, state and federal regulations, and potential risks associated with permanent geologic storage.

In September 2020, researchers will drill a 10,000-ft exploratory hole at the Milton R. Young Station to extract about 1300 ft of rock samples (cores) and other data from the target formations and the overlying seals. These samples will be tested to determine if they meet the criteria for safe, permanent geologic storage of CO2. The drilling and coring will follow state regulations that require drilling permits and the protection of groundwater resources. No CO2 will be injected during this operation. After research at the site is completed, the hole will be sealed with concrete (plugged) in accordance with state regulations. Computer-based geologic models that serve as the foundation for CO2 injection simulation scenarios will be updated based on the data gathered from these cores, from previously obtained cores and drilling data, and from recent geophysical surveys.

Geologic Core Samples

Geologic core samples

Rock core from the Broom Creek Formation retrieved from a test hole in Mercer County, North Dakota, in December 2017 show that the ~6000-ft-deep formation contains reddish beach sand.

Restoration after Drilling

Restoration after drilling

In the multistep restoration process, all traces of the drilling pad were removed, the contours of the land reshaped, and the topsoil was put back in place.

Geologic Modeling and Simulation Scenarios

Geologic modeling simluation group

To create the computer-based geologic model, geoscientists incorporate data from laboratory results, the exploratory hole, and geophysical surveys into a 3-dimensional representation of the subsurface geology of a potential CO2 storage zone and surrounding area.

Geoscientists use the 3-D model in specialized simulation software to predict the effects of CO2 injection, including fluid flow and pressure in the storage zone and adjacent layers, to better understand the long-term fate of injected CO2.

Why North Dakota?

Low-Carbon Energy for North Dakota North Dakota is a great place for CCUS NDCS drilling site overview

Who Is North Dakota CarbonSAFE?

North Dakota CarbonSAFE is led by the Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota. Partners include the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory and Minnkota Power Cooperative Additional feasibility study partners included the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Lignite Research Program, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, ALLETE Clean Energy, BNI Energy, and the North American Coal Corporation.

North Dakota CarbonSAFE is one of five projects to advance to the site characterization and permitting phase under DOE's CarbonSAFE Initiative through DOE's Office of Fossil Energy. The CarbonSAFE Initiative supports projects that address key research in the path toward the commercialization of CCS technologies, including the development of safe, permanent, commercial-scale geologic storage sites for CO2.

What Are the Next Steps?

The feasibility study ran from June 2017 to February 2020. Results of the feasibility study have verified the technical feasibility of a commercial carbon capture and storage project in this area of North Dakota.

If the assessments show that a commercial CCS project is practical and safe, the project partner, Minnkota Power Cooperative, plans to submit CO2 storage permit applications to North Dakota state entities to develop a geologic site for permanent CO2 storage as part of Project Tundra.

For more information, contact us at or (701) 777-5000.