Testing helium equilibrium between quartz and pore water as a method to determine pore water helium concentrations

Stanley D. Smith, D. Kip Solomon, W. Payton Gardner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The effectiveness of carbon capture and geologic storage depends on many factors, including and especially the permeability of the reservoir's caprock. While caprock integrity is generally assumed if petroleum has been preserved, it is poorly constrained in reservoirs containing only saline waters, and CO2 leakage poses a potential risk to shallow aquifers. Naturally-occurring He accumulates in pore waters over time with the concentration being strongly dependent on the long term flux of fluid through the caprock. Furthermore, a small fraction of pore-water He diffuses into quartz and this may be used as a proxy for He concentrations in pore water, where dissolved gas samples are difficult to obtain, such as in deep sedimentary basins. In this paper He contained in quartz grains is measured and compared to previously measured pore water concentrations. Quartz was purified from core samples from the San Juan Basin, New Mexico and the Great Artesian Basin, South Australia. Quartz separates were heated at 290°C to release He from the quartz. The quartz from the San Juan Basin and high purity quartz from the Spruce Pine Intrusion, North Carolina was repeatedly impregnated at varying pressures using pure He, heated and analyzed to build He sorption isotherms. The isotherms appear linear but vary between samples, possibly due to fluid inclusions within the quartz grains as high purity quartz samples partition only 1.5% of He that partitions into San Juan Basin samples. Concentrations of He in the pore water were calculated using the He-accessible volume of the quartz and the air-water He solubility. The mean San Juan Basin He pore water concentration was 2×10-5cc STP He/g water, ~400 times greater than atmospheric solubility. Great Artesian Basin samples contain a mean He concentration of 3×10-6cc STP He/g water or 65 times greater than atmospheric solubility. However, pore water He concentrations in both the San Juan and Great Artesian Basins differ by up to an order of magnitude compared to samples collected with an alternate method. The reason for the offset is attributable to either partial saturation of the pore volume or a lack of He equilibrium between quartz and pore water. Coating of clay or other mineral phases on quartz grains, which tends to reduce the effective diffusion coefficient, may cause the latter. This technique of assessing permeability is promising due to the abundance of existing core samples from numerous basins where carbon sequestration may ultimately occur.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-195
Number of pages9
JournalApplied Geochemistry
StatePublished - Aug 2013


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