LONGYEARBYEN: Norwegian researchers conducting a climate change study on Svalbard have discovered shale gas in the Adventdalen Valley.
The gas is trapped in a 200-meter-thick layer of shale rock approximately five kilometers east of Longyearbyen, according to scientists from the CO2 Lab at the University Centre in Svalbard.
A team from the lab discovered the gas last year after drilling a series of wells in the area to see if the ground could absorb carbon emissions from Longyearbyen’s coal-fired power plant, in a process known as carbon capture and storage.
Ragnhild Rønneberg, the lab’s director, said it’s unclear how much gas the site holds.
But she said early tests indicate the deposit, which has gone unreported until now, could be the first significant natural gas discovery on Svalbard, a remote archipelago in the Barents Sea.
“This is the first time we’ve found gas in potentially large volumes here,” Rønneberg said. “But there’s still a huge amount of work that needs to be done to see if it’s of value to the local community.”
In the meantime, the C02 Lab is proceeding with its signature carbon capture and storage study. The project began in 2007 and has cost 75 million NOK to date.
Snorre Olaussen, a geologist at UNIS who is involved with the project, said the lab has identified a porous sandstone formation 670 to 970 meters below ground that is capable of storing compressed carbon fluid from the power plant.
The layer of gas-rich shale rock that sits closer to the surface would act as a cap rock to prevent the carbon from escaping above ground, Olaussen said.
“The technology is improving as we go along,” Olaussen said. “I think storing [the carbon] is possible now.”
In August, the lab applied for permission to do a series of trial injections to see how the carbon behaves underground. If the experiment works, researchers estimate that the sandstone reservoir could hold 20-years-worth of carbon emissions from the power plant.
The plant generated 50,000 tons of carbon last year, according to Hugo Olsen, the facility’s production manager. The emissions figure is down from 2011, when the plant produced 58,000 tons of CO2.
The plant provides electricity and heat to Longyearbyen’s 2,000-plus residents. It opened in 1983 and is Norway’s only coal-fired power plant.
The government is currently considering plans to replace the plant, or upgrade the existing building to include a state-of-the-art carbon capture facility.