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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Low-Probability High-Consequence (LPHC) Failure Events in Geologic Carbon Sequestration Pipelines and Wells: Framework for LPHC Risk Assessment Incorporating Spatial Variability of Risk:

  • Author(s): Oldenburg, Curtis M.
  • Budnitz, Robert J.
  • et al.

If Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage (CCS) is to be effective in mitigating climate change, it will need to be carried out on a very large scale. This will involve many thousands of miles of dedicated high-pressure pipelines in order to transport many millions of tonnes of CO2 annually, with the CO2 delivered to many thousands of wells that will inject the CO2 underground. The new CCS infrastructure could rival in size the current U.S. upstream natural gas pipeline and well infrastructure. This new infrastructure entails hazards for life, health, animals, the environment, and natural resources. Pipelines are known to rupture due to corrosion, from external forces such as impacts by vehicles or digging equipment, by defects in construction, or from the failure of valves and seals. Similarly, wells are vulnerable to catastrophic failure due to corrosion, cement degradation, or operational mistakes. While most accidents involving pipelines and wells will be minor, there is the inevitable possibility of accidents with very high consequences, especially to public health. The most important consequence of concern is CO2 release to the environment in concentrations sufficient to cause death by asphyxiation to nearby populations. Such accidents are thought to be very unlikely, but of course they cannot be excluded, even if major engineering effort is devoted (as it will be) to keeping their probability low and their consequences minimized. This project has developed a methodology for analyzing the risks of these rare but high-consequence accidents, using a step-by-step probabilistic methodology. A key difference between risks for pipelines and wells is that the former are spatially distributed along the pipe whereas the latter are confined to the vicinity of the well. Otherwise, the methodology we develop for risk assessment of pipeline and well failures is similar and provides an analysis both of the annual probabilities of accident sequences of concern and of their consequences, and crucially the methodology provides insights into what measures might be taken to mitigate those accident sequences identified as of concern. Mitigating strategies could address reducing the likelihood of an accident sequence of concern, or reducing the consequences, or some combination. The methodology elucidates both local and integrated risks along the pipeline or at the well providing information useful to decision makers at various levels including local (e.g., property owners and town councils), regional (e.g., county and state representatives), and national levels (federal regulators and corporate proponents).

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