Abstract

Geological carbon storage has the potential to reduce anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, if large volumes can be injected and securely retained. Storage capacity is limited by regional pressure buildup in the subsurface. However, natural CO2 reservoirs in the United States are commonly underpressured, suggesting that natural processes reduce the pressure buildup over time and increase storage security. To identify these processes, we studied Bravo Dome natural CO2 reservoir (New Mexico, USA), where the gas pressure is up to 6.4 MPa below the hydrostatic pressure, i.e., less than 30% of the expected pressure. Here, we show that the dissolution of CO2 into the brine reduces the pressure by 1.02 ± 0.08 MPa, because Bravo Dome is isolated from the ambient hydrologic system. This challenges the assumption that the successful long-term storage of CO2 is limited to open geological formations. We also show that the formation containing the reservoir was already 2.85 ± 2.02 MPa underpressured before CO2 emplacement. This is likely due to the overlying evaporite layer, which prevents recharge. Similar underpressured formations below regional evaporites are widespread in the midcontinent of the United States. This suggests the existence of significant storage capacities with properties similar to Bravo Dome, which has contained large volumes of CO2 over millennial time scales.

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