About the project

About the project

The University of Queensland led a major research and scoping study into the potential for carbon capture and storage to help reduce emissions.

The project was aimed at providing information and analysis to inform the broader debate on how Australia might contribute to climate change mitigation and on the suitability of the Surat Basin for large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as a part of this.

The project had two main parts:

  1. Developing a low-cost, low-impact methodology to improve estimation of deep aquifer conditions. It made maximum use of data available from oil and gas, CSG and other operations. It included a broad range of geotechnical and techno-economic studies on the suitability of CO2 storage deep underground.
  2. A social science program, exploring attitudes to CCS and other energy technologies and the trade-offs individuals make about their energy choices.

This project didn't involve injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) into the ground.

Previous studies have found that aquifers in the deepest parts of the Surat Basin (greater than 2000m) at the base of the Great Artesian Basin in Eastern Australia might be a potential place to safely store CO2. The University of Queensland is deeply engaged in work which is updating and revising our understanding of the Great Artesian Basin. This is generally showing greater complexity, heterogeneity and lower connectivity than historically thought.

The research from this project increases understanding of deep aquifer properties and provides new scientific information on general groundwater assessment in the area.

The project was funded by the Australian Government through the Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development & Demonstration (CCS RD&D) Fund, LET Fund and The University of Queensland. The official name of the project was The University of Queensland Surat Deep Aquifer Appraisal Project.

All research reports are are publicaly available in the final reports section.

Frequently asked questions

Why did UQ undertake this research?

UQ is committed to research related to climate change mitigation. Research in areas such as clean energy, renewable energy and sustainable development, together with a commitment to sustainable investment principles, is a greater measure of UQ's commitment on climate change.

In the words of UQ's Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj, “UQ acknowledges the significant duty of public research to underpin the innovations needed for a more sustainable, cleaner energy future. It is better to work with all parties and across all areas of the university to ensure effective action on climate change”.

What was the aim of this research?

The project was aimed at providing information and analysis to inform on the suitability of the Surat Basin for large-scale Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to support future climate change mitigation actions. The project collated and synthesised existing data from various sources and gathered new data from the wells and infrastructure of third parties. Note for clarity, “large scale” was taken by the researchers to mean a scale that would materially abate emissions (say by around 90%) from at least one large, modern, coal fired power plant. This is significant because low carbon, assured, baseload power remains a missing ingredient in our power supply for the foreseeable future.

Who funded this research?

The project was funded by the Australian Government through the Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development & Demonstration (CCS RD&D) Fund, LET Fund and The University of Queensland.

What was the role of The University of Queensland in the research?

The University of Queensland’s role was in providing high-quality, rigorous, reviewed and independent scientific study. University researchers designed and managed the research project and assured the quality of its output. Recent experience points to the importance of ‘getting the science right’ first, i.e. before any large development decisions can be made.

Why was the Surat Basin studied?

Many large CO2 point source emissions are located in Queensland (and northern New South Wales). The State and Federal Governments are seeking ways to reduce greenhouse gas intensity of the economy. Previous studies have identified aquifers deep within the Surat Basin to be of possible interest for safe and secure CO2 storage, but have consistently pointed out that to establish whether or not a real option exists it requires more basic scientific data and analyses.

What is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)?

CCS is the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) from large stationary emissions sources (e.g. power stations) and its subsequent transport to safe and secure storage in deep underground formations. The purpose of CCS is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change. Further information can be found at http://www.globalccsinstitute.com/understanding-ccs/what-is-ccs. The International Energy Agency considers that given the right policy circumstances and suitable locations, CCS could make substantial contribution to mitigating the risk of climate change (www.iea.org/topics/ccs/).

Are the researchers promoting or advocating CCS or CO2 storage in the Surat Basin?

No. The aim of the research project was not to advocate or oppose carbon storage in the Surat Basin, but to collect new data and develop new and informed knowledge about CCS scenarios and their potential impacts. New knowledge is needed for any interested stakeholder to make the judgement about whether or not they would like to pursue CCS as a climate change mitigation strategy in the area. Nevertheless, the Project Director, Professor Garnett, points out that “While some more local specific sub-surface data are required, the analysis to date represents a step change in our understanding of the potential for CCS in this part of Queensland. It is likely that CCS deployed on our newest plants can establish Queensland as a world leader in genuinely, meaningful abatement. Such a deployment would contribute to regional employment AND create stable, low carbon power generation AND enable really significant emissions reduction for a few decades to come.”

Was there any injection of CO2 into the Basin as part of the research?

No. The research did not require injection of any CO2 into the aquifers to perform the assessment. Generally speaking, Professor Garnett advises that “The fundamental physics and chemistry of carbon dioxide movement in the sub-surface are well understood and don’t have different rules in Queensland compared to other parts of the world! We can usually obtain the required locally-specific data using water tests (and some CO2 tests in the lab). This means that, with enough pre-work, we can be confident of secure and safe storage without the need for large scale CO2 trials in advance. This is borne out by experience in large aquifer storage projects elsewhere in the world, including the recently commissioned Gorgon project in WA”.

Did the research require the construction of new wells?

No. The project didn't require the construction of new wells in the Surat Basin. Existing wells and water bores or wells already planned by oil and gas operators were used for new data gathering.

What effect did the research have on the local landholders?

The majority of the work involved desk top analyses. However, data gathering was undertaken to establish the water quality and aquifer characteristics in the Precipice Sandstone aquifer and/or overlying formations at various locations in the basin. This information will be of general interest to landholders and regulators and will inform groundwater resource management and modelling on a wider basis. The research also undertook studies into the groundwater impact of possible CO2 injection at 2.3km depth. The impact would generally be seen in the “far-field” meaning many 10s of km from any possible injection sites. There are no groundwater abstraction wells from the studied geological formation within about 30km. The movement of CO2 is currently modelled as being limited to less than 10km, so the “far-field” groundwater impact would be a rise in pressure or water level at distant bores. Some bores might become artesian and need to be re-completed with new headworks.

How will the results of the project be disseminated now the research has concluded?

The entire collection of 49 research reports are publically available on the UQ website. The results of the research will be made public through peer-reviewed journal articles, project reports and presentations. The basic scientific data gathered on the water quality and aquifer properties will be lodged with the Queensland State Geological Survey and Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment.

The data and information will be used by several parties including those interested in groundwater resource modelling and management and climate change mitigation through CCS. Analysis of the test results will be combined with desktop studies of possible CCS deployment. These studies seek to model groundwater impacts and other trade-offs which would be required for CCS to be an option. This will provide policy makers and other stakeholders (governments, companies etc.) with improved knowledge of whether or not they would like to use it as a technology to address the challenges of emissions reductions compared to other options.

What assurance exists that the research is without bias or interference from funding bodies?

UQ has control over what is published. Research integrity at UQ is guaranteed by adherence to UQ’s research integrity principles. General principles are set out in the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research.

Specific principles are also given to all research staff involved in the project through the UQ Research Integrity Office. Read more: Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and UQ Research Integrity Office. UQ engages with the funding bodies via funding agreements and a steering or oversight committee.

Importantly, within these agreements, UQ owns any intellectual property arising from the research, and is free to publish scientific results arising out of the project.

How does this research relate to CTSCo’s project close to Wandoan?

Details of CTSCo and its project can be found on their website (http://ctsco.com.au/). CTSCo also receives funding from the same funders as the UQ research, including funding through the Australian government’s Carbon Capture and Storage Research Development and Demonstration Fund.

The UQ research project is managed independently of the CTSCo project. Nevertheless, there has been significant technical sharing between the two teams and the data and results from the UQ study have been shared fully with CTSCo. Similarly, extensive geological data from CTSCo’s West Wandoan-1 well was made available for the UQ study.

In contrast to CTSCo, the UQ study has focussed only on “large-scale” abatement potential, rather than demonstration scale. Within the UQ study, the “most prospective” area for large-scale sequestration has been identified to be more than 100 km to the south and more than 1km deeper than the historic CTSCo area of interest near Wandoan.

Resources (external links)

More information and research on carbon capture and storage is available from the following sources: