A scientific review says there is no evidence to support claims that carbon dioxide is leaking from a high-profile Saskatchewan project.
A team of engineers, geologists and geophysicists reviewed claims made by a consultant who said soil samples showed conclusive proof that gases are escaping from a carbon sequestration reservoir in Weyburn, Sask.
The team assessed the findings of a firm called Petro-Find Geochem Ltd., which conducted the report on behalf of Jane and Cameron Kerr, whose discovery of a series of bizarre phenomena on their property near Weyburn - including strange algal blooms, dead animals and fizzy water - made them suspect gas was bubbling up. Petro-Find found high levels of carbon dioxide in soil gas, and concluded that it "is clearly the anthropogenic CO2 injected into the Weyburn reservoir."
On Wednesday, the owner of Petro-Find, Paul Lafleur, said he "definitely" stands by his findings.
But scientists with the Petroleum Technology Research Centre, which has been conducting a decade-long, $85-million research survey of the Weyburn project for the International Energy Agency, said the findings in the Petro-Find report do not support that conclusion.
Experts "examined every claim made in the report, from carbon isotope ratios said to be markers of the CO2 underground at Weyburn, to discussions of high CO2 readings in the soil, to claims of open faults," Malcolm Wilson, the centre's executive director, said in a statement Wednesday. "They found no data in the report that can support the assertions that CO2 has migrated through the geological storage system to the surface."
Allegations of a leak by the Kerr family have called into question the safety of carbon capture and storage, a technology that buries greenhouse gases rather than emitting them into the atmosphere. That technology forms a key plank of Canada's climate strategy, and has been pursued by numerous countries around the world. The Weyburn project is one of the first to use it on a commercial scale, meaning any problems there could have a global impact.
But Mr. Wilson's centre drafted a seven-page reply to the Petro-Find report that suggested the source of the strange occurrences at the Kerr property is unlikely to be the reservoir used for injection of carbon dioxide gas.
"The phenomena observed at the Kerr property can be explained by near surface processes including microbial generation of soil CO2 and methane," the centre wrote in its rebuttal
"The concentrations of CO2 in soil gases collected by Petro-Find are similar to those found in prairie soils in the vicinity of Weyburn."
The centre also questioned the science of Petro-Find's methods.
"The report contains technical errors, invokes undocumented data, and provides minimal to no information on their scientific methods or analytical techniques."
Despite scientific skepticism, however, the Kerr family has photographic evidence of the odd things that have happened on its property, and has demanded a year-long study - which the Saskatchewan government promised, but did not deliver - to find out what exactly is happening.
"Let's do something that's definitive on the Kerrs' property, and get this resolved," said Barry Robinson, a lawyer with environmental group Ecojustice who has worked with the family.
He said the proliferation of abandoned wells around the Kerr property contradicts statements by Weyburn proponents, including its corporate owner, Cenovus Energy Inc., that the carbon reservoir can't leak.
The petroleum centre report states that "for leakage at the surface to occur would require breaching the 1,500 metre of [rock]strata. Well, we did breach the 1,500 metres of strata several hundred times with oil and gas wells that I guarantee are not all properly sealed off," Mr. Robinson said.
For his part, Mr. Lafleur questioned the intellectual capability of the petroleum centre, which has relied on the work of dozens of international scientists, including some from the British Geological Survey and the University of Rome.
"None of them over there are geochemical experts, none of them," he said. "I'm the only expert here in Saskatchewan."
He called the centre's rebuttal a "mish-mash," and said his experience in testing Saskatchewan soils shows that the levels on the Kerr property are unambiguously abnormal.
Mr. Lafleur is a controversial figure: his primary business involves finding underground oil and gas deposits by looking for hydrocarbon deposits in soil; in fact, he believes he found "three as yet undiscovered light oil reservoirs with some liquids on the Kerr property." But few companies use his technique, and many are skeptical.
"It's something a company I was involved in pursued a long time ago and it's almost like snake oil," said Scott Saxberg, the chief executive officer of Crescent Point Energy, a major Saskatchewan oil producer.
Mr. Lafleur, however, said his two-person firm has been involved in the discovery of 100 oil reservoirs. He said Nordic Oil and Gas Ltd., a junior oil and gas penny stock with a market value of $8.4-million, has used his services. Others, he said, are missing out by not using him.
"We're always pushing the envelope," he said. "If companies do not accept what we do, then that's their hard luck."