December 20, 2023
The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGMR) has been awarded a $1,180,851 grant from the Department of Energy (DOE), with cost matching provided by the New Mexico Higher Education Department Technology Enhancement Fund, to study the structural and thermal characteristics of the San Juan Basin. Luke Martin, NMBGMR senior petroleum geologist, will lead the project as the principal investigator along with 13 other collaborators, including scientists from New Mexico Tech’s Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC) and education and outreach staff from PRRC and the bureau. “This proposal came together very quickly through the hard work of these collaborators,” Martin says.
“The project ties into bigger work in the area with carbon sequestration. If you’re going to put a lot of CO2 underground,” says Martin, “you have to be able to show that it’s not going to leak. Our project contributes to the bigger work in the area of understanding the margins of the basin, the subsurface geology, and how it relates to carbon storage projects.”
The San Juan Basin, which has been a source of oil and gas production for over 100 years, is increasingly the focus of research on carbon capture, utilization, and storage.
“The project is two-fold,” explains Martin. “One part will examine seismic data to better understand a feature on the western side of the basin called the Hogback monocline, which is a series of steeply dipping beds that continue into the subsurface. And below that there’s a big fault. It’s important to get a better understanding of this feature because, when you think about any fluid in a reservoir, it matters where that reservoir is juxtaposed against a fault and the nature of that fault—if the fault is sealing.”
The Hogback monocline has been studied in the past during the basin’s long history of oil and gas development. But the seismic data—key to understanding the feature—are held mainly by private companies.
“A big chunk of the grant will be used to gather data,” says Martin. “There are these seismic clearing houses that license the data to you. Part of this DOE grant is to use the expertise of state geological surveys to get the interpretation of these data out into the public domain for these bigger carbon sequestration projects.”
The second part of the project will be a thermal characterization of the basin. By compiling both modern thermal data and paleothermal data derived from low-temperature thermochronometry, the team plans to make a model of the basin’s porosity and permeability to better understand how fluids may migrate during CO2 injection.
“We need to understand how the thermal history of the basin ties into the reservoir qualities,” Martin says. “When you’re storing CO2 in an underground reservoir, one of the questions is how much you can put in and where. So if you’ve got pore space that is obstructed by mineralization caused by thermal effects, that’s something you need to know.”
By his own account, Martin loves the San Juan Basin. “Ever since starting at the bureau over three years ago, I’ve been enthralled with the tectonics and structural components of the San Juan Basin,” he says. “It’s a very dynamic basin, and we’re excited to work on this important project.”