Sunday, February 7, 2010

Pore Space and Why It Matters to New Mexicans

On Friday the New Mexico State Senate passed Senate Bill 145 that would define ownership rights and liabilities for what is being called pore space.

Ownership of land is easy to understand because it is the top soil and everything you can see on the surface of the land. Mineral rights are for things like gas, oil, copper, gold and coal. Some people understand that you can sell mineral rights while still maintaining ownership of the surface land.

A company will come in and mine the minerals, reclaim the land and then a owner has a flat piece of land to then build on in the future. While the land is never the same it still has a use as a piece of property. It is only the natural historical environment that is destroyed by strip mining.

Now New Mexico is on its way to having a third property right spelled out which is called pore space. So what is pore space and why is it important to land owners and New Mexicans.

To understand what pore space is you must think of our planet like a large sponge. Like a sponge it is not hollow but it has pores or pockets varying in size from very tiny to huge which have gas, oil, water, and some have air in them.

When we drill for oil we replace the oil with water or CO2 gases using a method called boosts so that the land does not sink in on itself like a sponge that dries out. Hard rock has large pores that we call caves in southern New Mexico where water has carved out softer rock to create hollow spaces.

With more coal fired power planets trying to find ways to store CO2 gases that they cannot release into the air they are turning to drilling into deep rock and then injecting those gases into that pore space which would displace anything such as air that is already in the pore space. Oil Companies are already using CO2 boosts methods to get more oil out of the ground in the southern part of the state.

Think of poring a glass of water on the ground the surface absorbs the water by displacing air rather then the water just sitting on the top of the ground. For now the experts believe that the gas will stay deep underground where it will not harm people. There can be no long term studies because this is a new technology.

We know from past experience with places like the Love Canal in New York State where a chemical company buried chemical which harmed many families that anything placed in the ground can come back to the surface in the future.

Sometimes that can result in harmful effects to people who later buy land without the knowledge of what has been buried underground in the past. So having a law which clearly defines who has the liabilities for what is injected in the land would be good for New Mexicans. Not much is know about the effects of CO2 on humans but research is ongoing to produce those results.

Containment is another issue because pore space is not controlled by property lines. It is like dropping a drop of food coloring into a glass of water the color does not stay in one place over time but spreads out. CO2 gases can pollute natural gas deposits and deep ground water.

Clearly we want to know who has owned the pore space and what that space has been used for in the past. At present pore space rights can be sold through contract and the issue of liability has not been clearly spelled out in state law.