NETL Researching Ways to Store CO2 in Shale After Gas Removed

Pittsburgh Business Times
16 December  2011
By Anya Litvak, Reporter

As natural gas companies scan tiny slivers of shale to see how gas flows through its pores, researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratories in Pittsburgh and Morgantown are more interested in what can be pumped back into those pores once the gas leaves the premises.

Dustin McIntyre, a mechanical engineer with NETL, said the agency has been studying shale for the past year, using medical and industrial CT scanners and microscanners with the hope of one day injecting carbon dioxide where valuable natural gas now rests.

“Once people were starting to see how much was coming out of the shale, they started saying this is probably going to be a good place to store CO2,” McIntyre said.

NETL is using a trio of high-resolution scanners to study the Earth’s natural fractures and what the rock looks like after companies hydraulically fracture the well to release more gas. Understanding shale pore systems and how liquid runs through the formation will help scientists figure out how CO2 might behave in its midst.

To inject CO2 into the ground, scientists must pressurize it into a liquid state, which is how it remains underground, provided that the pressure of the formation that holds it matches up.

Shale plays are expected to produce for decades, so NETL’s plan to pump CO2 into the Marcellus, for example, may be 40 or 50 years away.

But, as McIntyre put it, “We don’t want to be 40 years down the road, ready to be injecting and nobody’s studied this.”

In the Morgantown lab, NETL’s scanners are built to mimic the conditions of the Earth, which means samples are kept warm and under pressure.

Anya Litvak covers energy, transportation, gaming and accounting. Contact her at or (412) 208-3824.