In the summer of 2013, GroundMetrics was hired to conduct a demonstration on the Aquistore Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) test site. CCS is a simple idea – CO2 that we don’t want in the atmosphere is “captured” at the point of release, transported to a likely site, and injected deep underground with the goal of keeping it there.

As with many simple ideas, CCS is complicated to actually achieve. One of the questions surrounding the process is whether the CO2 remains underground or leaks back out. GroundMetrics’ subsurface imaging technology offers the potential to map the CO2 plume from the injection well as it expands and verify whether the CO2 is remaining trapped underground or escaping. The Project Consortium in charge of the Aquistore site was interested in seeing what we could do and issued us a contract. We needed to take a set of baseline measurements before the injection and then we would repeat the collection afterwards. The differences between the two sets of measurements would be used to image the plume.

GroundMetrics Gothic

GroundMetrics Gothic

Our Southern California field staff conducted a reconnaissance mission and discovered a totally different environment than they were used to – flat, green, well-watered emptiness stretching to the horizon. We put down a few sensors overnight to get some initial measurements and, the next morning, discovered a problem. Cows. Cows apparently considered our nice, chewy, insulated cable a delicacy. For this test, we used cabling to connect all of our devices together. The picture below shows the cable drums we ordered for the Aquistore survey. As you can see, we needed a LOT of cable.

That's a lot of cable

That’s a lot of cable

So we decided they needed to be taken off the site completely for our large data collection. We were working with a local land use consultant who was tasked with liaising with the farmers and negotiated to transfer the cattle from the field to a secondary site.

Everything was arranged, travel was booked, equipment was shipped, and we were ready to go when we got a rather alarming call. The farmer was sorry, but he’d put his bull in with his cows in order to breed them and the gentleman had not been doing his part. The farmer was concerned that moving the cattle would disturb the natural, albeit slightly delayed, process and declined to move them on schedule. He wanted us to wait until the bull got busy.

We’d all been through project delays before – “the equipment’s not ready” delays, weather delays, funding delays, airline schedule delays, permitting delays – but no one had ever experienced a “the bull won’t breed” delay before. The problem was that an injection well was going to be drilled on the site and the drilling would start on schedule, whether we were done or not. We had to survey before drilling and really needed to start on time.

Finally a compromise was reached. We’d cut back our survey coverage to leave enough site space for the cows to take care of business on, and the farmer would gather them in a fenced region so we could keep them away from our delicious but technically crucial cable. The survey proceeded, we got some good data, and we’re looking forward to getting back onto the site to take the second set of measurements once injection has progressed.

Cow-nibbled cable

Cow-nibbled cable

And we started putting some serious effort into wireless links for our equipment. We’re now mostly wireless with satellite links for data transfer and GPS for placement. When we go back to Aquistore, we’ll be ready no matter what the cows are up to. But just in case, we’ll bring a Marvin Gaye album along.