Rising CO2 emissions have caused scientists and policy makers to explore potential solutions to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, including carbon capture and sequestration. This project, funded through the Department of Energy CarbonSAFE initiative, aims to characterize the potential storage capacity and preferential fluid-flow pathways through the Permian White Rim Sandstone on and near the San Rafael Swell, Utah, to assess the formation’s viability as a possible CO2 sequestration reservoir. A diverse suite of sedimentological observations and diagenetic analyses was used to assess the White Rim Sandstone’s reservoir potential, including detailed outcrop observations, facies descriptions and ichnology, measured stratigraphic sections with associated correlations, permeability measurements, thin-section petrography, and visible and near-infrared spectroscopy. Stratigraphically, the White Rim Sandstone has two major units separated by a marine transgressive surface. The lower eolian unit is characterized by decimeter- to meter-scale trough cross-bedded grain-flow and wind-ripple facies. The upper reworked, shallow-marine unit has a consistent set of facies at all three field sites: (1) soft-sediment deformation facies (e.g., contorted bedding or clastic pipes), (2) symmetric ripple laminations, (3) bioturbated (dominantly horizontal), and (4) bioturbated (dominantly vertical). This set of four facies represents the transgression of the Permian Kaibab sea over the Permian White Rim coastal dune field.
The outcrop samples and subsurface core samples (∼1561–2243 m deep and ∼33–50 km away from the outcrop localities) experienced different diagenetic fluid-flow histories that drastically impacted the reservoir properties. Outcrop samples have initial quartz overgrowth cements followed by rim-forming calcite cements, iron oxide cements, and occasional oil staining. In contrast, the core samples show significant compaction, followed by quartz overgrowth cementation and a later stage of patchy, large, pore-filling calcite cement that eliminated the porosity and permeability of the potential reservoir (<0.1 md). Outcrop permeability values tend to reflect textural differences in facies, particularly the presence and spacing of internal laminations and bounding surfaces. Facies with fewer internal laminations, such as the grain-flow facies, have higher permeability values than facies with closely spaced internal laminae, such as the wind-ripple facies. Disruption of original bedding (e.g., soft-sediment deformation or bioturbation) alters original depositional textures and creates preferential flow pathways with the potential to increase permeability. Overall, if the diagenesis and resulting low permeability values of the core samples are representative of the White Rim Sandstone at depth, then the White Rim Sandstone would not make a high-quality storage reservoir despite initial, promising outcrop results.