The Geologic Maps Foundation was founded in 2016 to address geologic aspects of issues dealing with the world’s changing energy challenges, uses, safety and security, policies, and associated environmental questions; for example the subsurface disposal of greenhouse gases, and safety and siting of natural gas storage fields world-wide. A corollary societal benefit will be the preservation of unpublished and out-of-print geologic maps, cross sections, and other geologic data and interpretations, and make available to the public, researchers, and policy makers. In addition the Foundation will play a role in educating the public and policy makers on the uses, techniques, and benefits of these vital data sets and interpretations.
Currently there are two critical issues that the Foundation hopes to address in more detail: Following the largest methane leak in US history at the Aliso Canyon gas storage field (aka Porter Ranch), California, new recommendations, rulemaking, and policies for gas storage fields are being proposed at the industry advisory, State, and Federal levels in order to prevent the recurrence of similar disruptive, environmentally damaging, and resource costly events. While this policy direction is useful it is narrowly focused on gas well design and integrity, i.e. engineering. The Foundation will take a more holistic approach where geologic hazards and their risks to gas storage fields and wells are identified and evaluated, and the impacts of gas storage on the surrounding environment are given consideration. For instance geologist and Foundation director Thomas L. Davis has identified several large gas storage fields in California that are developed across active faults capable of generating moderate to large earthquakes (Davis, 2016a*,b**), yet the seismic risk to gas well integrity, the environment, and the nation’s energy supply is poorly understood and nearly unappreciated. The second issue is the preservation of valuable but unpublished maps and cross sections. With many energy companies downsizing due to low commodity prices there is the potential for the loss of irreplaceable subsurface information that can be used in many research areas (such has been the case in previous downturns). A small number of map samples are now posted on the Foundation’s web site (http://geologicmapsfoundation.org/samples.html), and the Foundation’s intent it to increase the number of available maps by several hundred over the next two years.
More specifically the Foundation shall: (a) educate the public and scientific community via presentations, published articles, and meetings and conferences on the importance and the research and societal benefits of geologic maps, cross sections, and other geologic data and interpretations; (b) assist and advise various governmental agencies, schools and universities, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and private groups with instruction, in-house generated reports, and the sharing of the geologic data sets and interpretations for scientific research, education, and issues and policy dealing with energy and the environment; (c) preserve by scanning paper geologic maps and cross sections, especially those out-of-print, obtained from various private and public sources; (d) make new geologic maps and cross sections; (e) digitize key existing paper geologic maps and place them into GIS (geographical information system) files and folders; (f) digitize key existing paper cross sections; (g) make the information described above in (c) through (f) available to the public via the Foundation’s web site; (h) instruct students and professional geologists and engineers on the techniques of geologic map making, cross section construction, and subsurface interpretation.
In the US over 400 underground natural gas (methane) storage fields supply nearly one-third of our nation’s energy needs, and that share is expected to grow in response to low carbon use requirements and ample domestic supplies. Given this substantial energy role how safe is gas storage in seismically prone areas where earthquake fault movements can shear wells? Gas fields with many active fault crossings have the potential to suddenly release massive amounts of methane. For instance, at the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage field (ACGSF) all 114 gas wells cross the Santa Susana fault (SSF) to reach the deeper gas reservoir. Seismologists and geologists have evidence that the SSF is earthquake active with a high rate of fault movement during the most recent period of geologic time. They characterize the SSF as capable of producing moderate to large earthquakes with fault movements sufficient to create breaks and leaks in high pressure wells. The recent ACGSF leak, although probably not due to fault movement, showed the difficult and lengthy process to regain control of a subsurface leak in a gas well and its significant regional and local impacts. In the four month long struggle to control the SS-25 well it released 20% of California’s annual methane emission (CARB, 2016). ~8,000 residents were relocated and two public schools closed (Harris and Walker, 2016). The operator, the Southern California Gas Company (a Sempra owned company), has to date spent $700+ MM on this event. The ACGSF leak was stopped by drilling a relief well that took over two months, and the event showed the lengthy and costly effort required to stop an underground leak from one well in a pressured and large volume storage field. Furthermore, methane, a much more effective heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, released to the atmosphere in large amounts can negate a good portion of the nation’s carbon dioxide reduction efforts (IPCC, 2014). In the event of a massive methane leak involving numerous wells regaining control and mitigation would be costly, perhaps impossible, and would have enormous safety, societal, and environmental consequences. As many of the storage field operators are public utilities it is possible that both the rate payers and tax payers could end up with these burdens. The earthquake fault hazard and its potential impact to the environment, the nation’s energy supply, and nearby communities have been nearly unrecognized by the gas storage industry, and consequently by policymakers. The nation, and especially communities adjacent to the storage fields, which are lacking the ability to retain independent technical expertise, must rely on the transparency and technical conclusions of the operators. Likewise, the regulator’s judgment relies heavily on the operator’s technical conclusions and thoroughness. To date, the Geologic Maps Foundation (GMF) is the only independent scientific nonprofit focused on this substantial environmental and safety hazard (Davis, 2016 a, b, and c). GMF’s evaluation should continue into 2017 in order to influence new gas well regulations being proposed by industry advisory, state, and federal agencies during the next two years. Concurrently, it is critical to inform and educate the public, their elected officials, and national and local organizations concerned with safe and clean energy. GMF is seeking funding to continue its efforts.
Thomas L. Davis, PhD, Director Geologic Maps Foundation, Inc. (GMF), California Professional Geologist #4171, www.geologicmapsfoundation.org; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
CARB, 2016, Determination of Total Methane Emissions from the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Leak Incident, California Air Resources Board staff report.
Davis, T.L., 2016a, Well integrity and active faulting: presentation at the Workshop on Well Integrity for Natural Gas Storage in Depleted Reservoirs and Aquifers, U.S. DOE National Laboratories, Broomfield, CO, July 12-13, 2016; power point presentation available: http://eesa.lbl.gov/wellintegrity/agendapresentations/
_________, 2016b, The Santa Susana fault, Aliso Canyon gas storage field, southern California-possible fault rupture hazard, gas well integrity, and regulatory implications (abstract): Joint Annual Meeting of Pacific and Rocky Mountains Sections American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) Las Vegas, NV, October 2-5, 2016.
________, 2016c, Fault displacement hazard at natural gas storage fields-a future research and regulatory direction: presentation at the Fault Displacement Hazard Analysis Workshop, December 8 – 9, 2016, USGS, Menlo Park, CA Harris, K., and Walker, A., 2016, California Division of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) Response to Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, US DOE National Laboratories Workshop on Well Integrity for Natural Gas Storage in Depleted Reservoirs and Aquifers, Broomfield, CO, July 12-13, 2016.
IPCC (2014): Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/