Subsurface Storage

Sandia’s priority in subsurface storage applies expertise in underground energy storage to engage with commercial storage partnerships and work with industry and other national labs in building a national expertise in wellbore integrity that can be applied to oil, gas, and carbon storage. Subsurface energy storage is part of the broad natural gas energy pipeline network drawing on 400 subsurface storage sites. The abundance of natural gas, and the expansion of gas use for electricity, is motivating storage owners to maximize their capacity. In order to ensure energy surety, Sandia and partners must:

  • Understand the current state of both legacy wells and currently operating wells.  This includes educating on current integrity issues, understanding the mechanisms for loss of integrity, and working towards learning how to protect those assets, both from an engineering aspect and a regulatory aspect.
  • Apply our knowledge and understanding of underground storage to other industries developing new energy storage methods.

Sandia has been the geotechnical adviser for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), the world’s largest supply of emergency crude oil, for 40 years. We are responsible for characterizing the site, which includes cavern and well development, geomechanical analysis, ensuring the integrity of caverns and wells, subsidence, and monitoring. Sandia’s many subsurface capabilities enable us to support the major changes that are taking place at SPR in terms of life extension programs and the possibility of more dynamic fill/withdrawal operations.

Sandia’s expertise, coupled with drilling technology and cement seal research, makes Sandia capable of leadership roles in subsurface storage for hydrogen, helium, compressed air, natural gas, and oil products, including the identification and repair of existing well bores.


Sandia was asked to review the kill well procedure during the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage well leak. In response to the Aliso Canyon gas leak, Sandia was involved in helping to develop new state regulations, using science to ensure that well integrity is monitored. We are also reviewing the Aliso Canyon Root Cause Analysis as Subject Matter Experts and analyzing workplans for geologic, seismologic, and geomechanical hazards at the site.

Sandia teams with commercial partners to offer operational decision-quality modeling and analysis for cavern stability and dome-wide impacts of new cavern emplacement.

Sandia is responsible for establishing testing, certification, and monitoring procedures for, and predicting the long-term behavior of the SPR.

Sandia’s work for the SPR consists primarily of the following technical activities:

  • Underground Storage of Crude Oil
  • Site Planning of Storage Facilities
  •  Site Characterization Studies
  •  Brine Disposal
  •  Cavern Integrity Monitoring and Testing
  •  Well Integrity Monitoring and Testing
  •  Subsidence Modeling
  •  Microseismic Analysis & Other Monitoring Technologies
  •  Oil and Brine Chemistry
  •  Full Cavern/Well Design and Development
  •  Cavern Operational Analyses
  •  Robust Geomechanical Modeling


  • Extensive modeling capabilities
  • Field scale testing and employment: Development and deployment of a high-temperature and high-pressure chemical sensing downhole tool. Used for in-situ fracture connectivity mapping, high-temperature electrochemistry, and real-time pH measurements
  • Large rock mechanics testing laboratory: Capable of running triaxial stress and strain tests on rock and other materials, along with long-term temperature-controlled creep tests
  • Subsurface characterization in three-dimensions and in time
  • Subsurface sensors: Design and deployment of sensors and subsurface wireline tools
    • Monitoring code that offers real-time cavern leak monitoring based on detection of other-than-expected wellhead pressures
    • Performs mechanical modeling calculations on Sandia’s High Performance Computing systems
  • Kayenta
    • A computational framework for generalized plasticity models
    • Aims to solve a system of generally nonlinear partial differential equations describing multiphase, multicomponent, and multiscale flow and transport in porous materials with multiphysical features
    • A salt solution mining code used to aid in the development of salt caverns
    • Sandia-developed 3D solid mechanics code used as a solver for salt mechanical behavior; ADAGIO uses the SIERRA Framework, which allows for coupling with other SIERRA mechanics codes


In addition to providing technology support to the SPR, Sandia works with industry and academic partners in the planning, development, and operation of underground salt caverns for the storage of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons. Our focus is onsite planning, geological investigations, cavern and subsurface mechanics, wellbore integrity, oil chemistry, operational analyses and salt leaching analyses while also providing project support in materials, multi-phase fluid flow, engineering, turbulence/shock analysis and other areas of expertise.

We will continue to support the SPR, our partners, and industry by:

  • Completing direct subsurface measurements through precise micro-drilling
  • Advancing downhole sensing for wellbore integrity
  • Providing wellbore risk assessment expertise
  • Advancing extensive geomechanical modeling capabilities for industry
  • Conducting spatial and geostatistical analyses
  • Conducting energy system resiliency analyses focusing on security and disaster recovery
  • Engineering capabilities for process plant simulation and pressure-volume-temperature modeling of gases and liquids, including underground storage
  • Monitoring and repair of damaged cement-geomaterial interfaces in high pressure high temperature repository and borehole scenarios (Sandia, University of New Mexico, and University of Texas at Austin partnership)
  • Working with federal regulators, namely the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), on reliability of subsurface safety valves in underground natural gas storage and regarding tubing and packers lifecycle for unattended ground sensor applications (Sandia and Battelle Memorial Institute partnership)
  • Advancing detection of wellbore failure for safe and secure utilization of subsurface infrastructure (Sandia, University of New Mexico, Battelle Memorial Institute, and Chevron partnership)

Don Conley

(505) 845-3555

Browse all Sandia publications or search by author below:

Kyung Won ChangGoogle Scholar list of publications.

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