Understandable Earth Science

Baseline sampling at CMC’s Field Research Station, Alberta, Canada

Last November, Stuart Gilfillan and I flew out to Alberta Canada, courtesy of UKCCSRC’s international cooperation fund, to collect baseline samples from the Carbon Management Canada’s Field Research Station.

The Field Research Station (FRS) is an exciting project set up by the University of Calgary, that will inject CO2 a few hundred meters below ground and monitor its migration through, and interaction within the subsurface. The monitoring will be carried out by surface gas monitoring, a deep monitoring well at the same depth as the injection horizon, and monitoring of shallow water wells. The University of Edinburgh is a project partner and will investigate the use of noble gases as tracers for CO2 storage. For this approach to be successful, well defined baselines are required and so our task was to collect deep and shallow fluid samples to characterise the baseline noble gases at the site.


Arriving at the FRS

After some minor flight delays and rescheduling (thanks to the helpful BA staff) we arrived in Calgary to check in with Don Lawton, Director of the Containment and Monitoring Institute (CaMI), and Mike Nightingale, Calgary’s resident gas sampling and analysis expert, before heading west to the town of Brookes.

The next day we awoke to a spectacular sunrise, and headed to the FRS site to spend a long day collecting samples from the on-site wells. The monitoring well’s fluid recovery system needed to be purged a few times before we could collect samples, and separating the gas bubbling off from the fluid proved to be a little trickier than anticipated, but with Mike’s help we managed to collect both gas and fluid samples. The weather on the site was blazing sunshine with brilliant blue skies, but on the windy side, thanks to the site being situated on the Canadian prairie. November is goose migration season and the skies were full of flocks of Snow and Canada Geese.


Mike and Stuart optimising the gas separator to collect samples from the monitoring well’s fluid recovery system.


Stuart and Mike collecting gassy fluid samples from the on-site shallow water well.

The next day, we managed to arrange access to one of the nearby Cenovus natural gas wells to collect a sample of the deeper geological fluids and test whether they influence the natural baseline of the site.

Sampling natural gas

Stuart sampling from a natural gas well

Our sampling mission overall went very efficiently, leaving us plenty of time to arrange shipment of the samples back to the lab (where they will be analysed by PhD student Rachel Wignall), and allowing a bit of time to check out the local Geotourism highlights. Alberta is home to the UNESCO world heritage site of Dinosaur Provincial Park, which hosts some fantastic badlands landscapes and a lot of dinosaur fossils. The weather continued to hold out for us, with sunny skies and reaching 19 °C in the dinosaur park valleys, which is spectacularly warm for Canada in November; a timely reminder that global warming is happening, and that researching techniques to monitor the safety of CO2 storage is more important than ever.

This blog  post is also available on UKCCRSC’s blog site.


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