1. Introduction and Project History 

The Longyearbyen CO2 project was initiated by UNIS in February 2007, following an article in the local community 

paper Svalbardposten by UNIS-director Gunnar Sand and professor Alvar Braathen, about turning the town’s main 
polluter, the coal-fuelled power plant, into a show case for carbon capture and storage (CCS). The captured CO2 they 

proposed, could be stored in the sub surface aquifers. The Norwegian Ministry of Justice, who was responsible for 
the energy supply, embraced the idea and decided to fund a pre-project. Longyearbyen CO2 Lab was then underway.

According to its environmental laws, Svalbard endeavors to be one of the best preserved wilderness areas in the 
world. Human activity shall seek green solutions whenever possible. A CCS-project in Longyearbyen will strengthen 
this profile, as the clean environment could be supplemented by advanced technologies to provide a clean supply of 
electricity.

Longyearbyen offers great advantages as a test site for CCS: 

• 

It is a pilot size community with a closed energy system, not linked to the energy system of mainland Nor 

 

way. The community is a natural laboratory.

• 

The main source of energy is coal. The 10 MW power plant also delivers heating to the town buildings.

• 

Svalbard has geological structures that can be utilized for subsurface deposition of CO2. The storage site is  

 

accessible by road, only 5 km from Longyearbyen.

• 

The storage site is well suited for research, education and monitoring activities as the site is on land, near  

 

community infrastructure and accessible all year round.

• 

Studies of sub-surface structures near Longyearbyen will benefit storage projects elsewhere. Knowledge  

 

and competence acquired may be utilized in industrial projects internationally.

The global need for CO2 injection test sites was another motivation for the Longyearbyen CO2 Lab project. There 

is an increasing interest around understanding effective CO2 storability, impact of variable reservoir qualities, and 

risks of subsurface leakage out of the storage containment. In order to mature CCS into a feasible green avenue, 
research communities and industries need field data to simulate liquid flow, develop reservoir models, and prepare 
for risk management procedures.

Longyearbyen CO2 Lab has attracted some strong research and financial partners along the way. The initial partners 

were the local coal mining company Store Norske, the American oil company ConocoPhillips, the state funding in-
strument Gassnova, and some of the best researchers from Norwegian universities and research institutes. Later, 
the companies Statoil, Statkraft, Lundin Norway, BakerHughes, and Leonhard Nilssen joined the project. The CLIMIT 
program of the Research Council of Norway has funded parts of the project, directly and through Gassnova.

As a university driven R&D project, the Longyearbyen CO2 Lab has been rather unique in its strategy and workflow. 

Activities have been motivated by knowledge needs, addressed in two-year steps. For each step new knowledge has 
generated new questions, and thereby innovative and focused research. The basic motivation; “you learn as long as 
you drill and test”, has been realized in a vibrant knowledge pyramid.

The first step of the Longyearbyen CO2 Lab project was to identify sandstone layers in the subsurface in which CO2 

could be stored (so-called storage unit). Three wells were drilled in 2007 and 2008, which cored the cap rock and up-
per part of the storage unit. Seismic assessments were added to map out subsurface geometries. A fourth well was 
drilled in the fall of 2009 to verify the storage capabilities and injectivity level of the storage unit sandstones. With 
proven injectivity, some storage capability was confirmed in November 2009. 

To further explore the storability and to assess the risk of CO2 escaping the storage unit, various injection and frac-

ture monitoring tests were performed in 2010. In 2011 two new wells were drilled to test the pressure communication 
and fluid flow pathways in an upper sandstone aquifer, found at 180 meters depth.  High water flux from

Page 4

Page 5

head and instantaneous response of pressures between the two rather shallow wells were obtained, proving excel-
lent conductivity in a rather low porosity/low permeability sandstone unit dominated by flow on fractures. The good 
fluid flow in this sandstone unit suggests that this layer can be used as a standby monitoring layer the day a CO2 

plume is injected into the deeper storage unit.

The 2011 campaign also performed water injection (leak-off tests) in the cap-rock shale, above the potential storage 
unit. These tests confirmed a well-sealing cap-rock, which has allowed the low pressure encountered in the storage 
unit. Further analysis of the data (Bahman et al.) suggest the storage unit-cap rock couplet can withstand pressures 
well above 110 bars before the vertical seal would be jeopardized.

Over a six year period the Longyearbyen CO2 Lab drilled eight wells. As all drill holes were fully cored, the project col-

lected more than four kilometers of drill core, covering a succession from the frozen but otherwise unconsolidated 
overburden (cored in drill hole 8) to the Lower Cretaceous succession (seven drill holes), through Jurassic shales of 
the caprock (five wells), and in to the storage unit sandstones of Early Jurassic to Late Triassic age (four wells), with 
the deepest well reaching a maximum depth of 970 m. With access to unique datasets, more than 30 researchers 
from universities, research institutes and private companies have contributed to the efforts. The results have caused 
substantial attention within both academic and industrial communities. and in the public domain.

For the injection tests, the project did not have access to CO2. The reservoir was, however, highly unconventional, and 

it was decided, in dialogue with industry partners, to use water as a medium for testing. Water proved to serve our 
needs in the initial phases of the project. And, of course, it was cheap, in line with the Longyearbyen CO2 Lab project 

that used local know-how and equipment (e.g., SNSK slim-hole drill rig) in a low-budget R&D operation.

The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) was in the driver’s seat and was responsible for managing the project right 
from the beginning. UNIS is an integrated part of the Norwegian university system, being defined as the Arctic exten-
sion of the mainland universities. Through UNIS, the project became a joint effort by some of the best researchers in 
the field. 

The motivation of UNIS to take on the challenge was initially an interest to contribute to the green development of 
the local community. But the initiative was also driven by science. The easy access to the sandstone aquifers/storage 
units enabled UNIS to use the projects directly in research and education. About 14 Master and 7 PhD-students have 
taken part in the programs and have used data from Longyearbyen CO2 Lab as part of their thesis.


The unique qualities were also recognized from the outside. In 2010, UNIS was happy to host the CCS summer school 
of the International Energy Agency (IEA), drawing a hundred researchers and students to Longyearbyen from all over 
the world. UNIS’ own international project workshops were also well visited, and the list of prominent guests, politi-
cians and top management alike, listening to the vision of and looking into Arctic CCS, is impressively long.

Project

  

history