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Surveying the Gulf

In October 2013, the Bureau of Economic Geology’s Tip Meckel led a 10-day cruise to collect 3D seismic data off the Texas coast in the Gulf of Mexico. This cruise was part of a multi-year effort to identify potential carbon dioxide (CO2) storage sites beneath the Gulf floor within 10 miles of Texas.

The seismic data were collected using the new Geometrics-manufactured P-Cable system, which is designed to reveal geologic layers and structures below the seafloor at shallower depths than those typically surveyed by the oil and gas industry. The Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG), a research unit in the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, is the only research institution in the United States (and among a handful globally) that currently operates such high-resolution 3D (HR3D) seismic acquisition technology.

Meckel and his team deployed the technology for the first time in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012. The information they are collecting is critical, they said, to ensure the CO2 won’t escape back to the seafloor.

Initial results indicate that the seismic system will be an extremely valuable tool for identifying, understanding and reducing risks of offshore storage projects by proving up regional sealing characteristics over large continuous areas. Interest from industry has been building, and acquiring datasets such as these are an important part of developing various anticipated commercial applications of HR3D technologies.

In addition to Meckel, science staff included Nathan Bangs from UT-Austin’s Institute for Geophysics and Dallas Dunlap from the BEG, as well as SMU graduate student Ben Phrampus. Logistical coordination and project management from shore was led by the BEG’s Ramon Trevino.

The research is funded through the Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory’s carbon sequestration research program and the Texas General Land Office.