The Sleipner storage site: Capillary flow modeling of a layered CO2 plume requires fractured shale barriers within the Utsira Formation

Andrew J. Cavanagh, R. Stuart Haszeldine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To prevent ocean acidification and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, it is necessary to capture and store carbon dioxide. The Sleipner storage site, offshore Norway, is the world's first and largest engineered waste repository for a greenhouse gas. CO2 is separated from the Sleipner gas condensate field and stored in the pore space of the Utsira Formation, a saline aquifer approximately 1 km below the surface and 200 km from the coast. Statoil, the field operator, has injected almost 1 Mt/yr of captured CO2 into the storage site since 1996. The buoyant CO2 plume ascended rapidly through eight thin shale barriers within the aquifer to reach the top seal in less than three years. The plume's progress has been monitored by eight seismic surveys, as well as gravimetric and electromagnetic monitoring, which record the spreading of nine thin CO2 layers. This paper presents a capillary flow model using invasion percolation physics that accurately matches the plume's geometry. The approach differs from standard Darcy flow simulations, which fail to match the plume geometry. The calibrated capillary flow simulation indicates that a mass balance for the plume is likely, but can only replicate the plume geometry if the thin intra-formational shale barriers are fractured. The model enables an estimate of the shale barrier behavior and caprock performance. The fractures are very unlikely to have been caused by CO2 injection given the confining stress of the rock and weak overpressure of the plume, and so fracturing must pre-date injection. A novel mechanism is suggested: the deglaciation of regional ice sheets that have rapidly and repeatedly unloaded approximately 1 km of ice. The induced transient pore pressures are sufficient to hydro-fracture thin shales. The fractures enable fast CO2 ascent, resulting in a multi-layered plume. Shallow CO2 storage sites in the Northern North Sea and other regions that have been loaded by Quaternary ice sheets are likely to behave in a similar manner
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-112
JournalInternational Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


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