Microseismic founder and chief executive Peter Duncan says it was almost happenstance that his company became involved in carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology development.

Duncan is widely credited with introducing the commercial use of passive seismic for monitoring hydraulic fracturing operations during the production of shale reservoirs.

The acquisition process deploys an array of passive recorders on the surface to acquire subsurface data in real time, mapping the fissures in the rock under pressure from water injection.

This can inform drilling decisions, typically to optimise well placement and recovery ratios from tight reservoirs, as well as guidance on safe operations.

Nine months ago, Houston-based Microseismic was invited to help a customer in Florida to detect sinkholes under an industrial structure.

"It was really a research type project," Duncan says. "But it highlighted that with only a little tweaking, our passive seismic technique could be adapted to monitoring geological sites being proposed for CCS projects."

CCS applications

He explains that the current focus of fracking in US shale reservoirs is often to detect induced seismicity not felt at the surface that may be indicative of faults moving — and the precursor of larger movements that might damage adjacent wells.

In CCS applications, evidence of induced seismicity could be valuable as an early warning system to the integrity of the storage site.

Similarly, microseismic data may show minute fractures and potential movements in the cap rock that could potentially lead to carbon dioxide leakage.

A further application would be to monitor the growth of the "plume" — in other words, how full the storage facility might be.

In this case, Duncan envisages a permanent array of receivers on the surface to provide 4D data on the performance of the site over time more cost-effectively and accurately than conventional land seismic techniques.

In diving into CCS, Duncan was encouraged by a private market survey.

"The opportunity in the US and Canada alone is huge if the net zero targets people are talking about are going to be met," he says.

"At this point, we have started work with the benefit of US government funding support for advancing CCS technologies. The real issue is that CCS is not yet profitable for companies, and that clearly needs to be addressed by improving the options available."

These are early days yet, he concedes, comparing it with the early days of fracking.

Before meeting the needs of the US shale developers took over the company’s business, the first job carried out by Microseismic in its formative days was a two-week CCS-type monitoring survey for Anadarko.

The company suspected a leak in a CO2 injection enhanced recovery operation in a Wyoming reservoir. “We found three,” Duncan says.

On watch: a Microseismic monitoring station Photo: MICROSEISMIC