MWH leads team to assess risks of geological carbon sequestration on groundwater quality

MWH has signed a contract with the American Water Works Association Research Foundation for a high-profile, rapid-response research project to assess the potential impact that underground carbon sequestration has on the quality of groundwater supplies, and identify related knowledge gaps and research needs. MWH is partnering with Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services firm...

BROOMFIELD, CO, Sept. 22, 2008 -- MWH, a global provider of environmental engineering, construction and strategic consulting services, announced today that it signed a contract with the American Water Works Association Research Foundation for a high-profile, rapid-response research project to assess the potential impact that underground carbon sequestration has on the quality of groundwater supplies, and identify related knowledge gaps and research needs. MWH is partnering with Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services firm.

The project was spurred by the recently released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency draft regulation that will allow atmospheric carbon dioxide to be injected as a supercritical fluid into deep geological deposits, thousands of feet below groundwater layers.

"The geological sequestration of carbon dioxide is widely considered to be one of the most important methods for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and worldwide research funding for this technology is approaching $100 million per annum," says Dr. John Norton, senior consulting engineer and project manager for MWH. "However, this technology is not without risks -- there is concern that the carbon dioxide will slowly leach out of the underlying formations and degrade water quality by changing the aquifer's geochemical characteristics."

The Climate Change Water Infrastructure Needs research consortia, an international affiliation of water research agencies in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, identified the topic as the most critical research need facing the water industry.

"The water agencies are concerned that by addressing one environmental problem, another huge problem will be generated," says Norton. "They are very alert to this issue because of their previous experience with unintended consequences. For instance, the MTBE [Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether] gasoline additive used to reduce air emissions resulted in a pile of groundwater problems due to its solubility. Groundwater agencies are very concerned that this approach to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will degrade the quality, and even quantity, of the groundwater supplies."

The research project involves a literature search and review of both published and unpublished "gray" literature, the syntheses of the available information, and production of a preliminary report identifying the potential impacts of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology on the quality of groundwater supplies. MWH will then develop a set of guidelines describing the critical parameters that need to be monitored, along with the frequency and length of the monitoring. Finally, MWH will host and facilitate a stakeholder meeting to discuss the rules' implications and identify the research gaps in the available data or knowledge base.

The project, funded by the American Water Works Association and the AWWA Research Foundation, is supported by the Environmental Defense Fund, the Edison Electric Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Groundwater Protection Council, the American Petroleum Institute, the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and some of the largest water utilities in the world including Thames Water, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and Miami-Dade, Florida.

Headquartered in Broomfield, Colo., MWH is a private, employee-owned firm that provides water, wastewater, energy, natural resource, program management, consulting and construction services to industrial, municipal and government clients in the Americas, Europe, Middle East, India, Asia and the Pacific Rim.

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