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Alberta presses ahead with CCS plans

New panel to oversee C$2bn programme

A BLUE-riband panel has been selected by the Alberta government to draft policies and regulations for commercial carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects that are already off the starting blocks.

CCS is the cherished goal of outgoing premier Ed Stelmach to refine more oil-sands bitumen into synthetic crude in Alberta and use the resulting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to rebuild reservoir pressures at enhanced-oil recovery (EOR) sites. The plan would make Alberta a world leader in applying the largely untested technology.

The government has established a C$2bn ($2.05bn) fund to support CCS projects and has so far assigned C$495m to Enhance Energy to build two CO2-related facilities at its Redwater site near Edmonton. Its goal is to remove 139m tonnes a year of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions through CCS by 2050, starting with 5m tonnes in 2015.

Three months ago, the government passed the Carbon Capture and Storage Statutes Amendment Act 2010 to support development of CO2 capture, transport, distribution and storage. Stephen Kaufman, chairman of the Integrated CO2 Network, an alliance of 16 Canadian industrial companies, says legislation is one of many tools needed to reduce GHG emissions.

“Studies clearly show that CCS can contribute to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions and is an important part of Canada’s suite of GHG reduction options,” he says. Energy minister Ron Liepert says CCS is an important part of a “whole portfolio of measures for reducing GHGs”.

Enhance, a small privately owned company, plans a 145 mile pipeline to deliver CO2 from Redwater to prolong the productive life of old oilfields in central Alberta. The CO2 will come from an upgrader, a joint venture between North West Upgrading and Canadian Natural Resources, which has secured 75% of its feedstock from Alberta’s bitumen-royalty-in-kind programme.

Enhance also has government funding to build a CO2 capture facility at the Agrium fertiliser plant at Redwater and plans to start construction in 2012. Enhance president Susan Cole says her company is developing EOR projects, but is not a marketer of CO2. “We buy the CO2 for our own account and we’re going to use it in EOR,” she says.

The government-appointed panel is charged with examining the environmental and safety processes for CCS and meeting Alberta’s goal of leading Canadian and global efforts to reduce GHG emissions, says Liepert. “The world is watching,” he says. “In many parts of the world they’re still talking about doing something. We’re doing something in Alberta. We’re demonstrating our commitment to green our energy production.”

The panel will be co-chaired by Stephan Bachu, who has been working on carbon-storage technology for the past two decades and shared in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and Don Thompson, president of the Oil Sands Developers Group and former manager of health, safety and environment at the Syncrude Canada oil-sands consortium.

Thompson says a priority is to put per-barrel emissions from the oil sands on the same level as imported oil, challenging perceptions that bitumen is dirtier than other energy sources.

But CCS has its doubters, who argue the technology is expensive, untried and potentially risky in the absence of clear proof that the CO2 will not leak from underground storage.

Chris Severson-Baker from Alberta’s independent Pembina Institute, which will advise Liepert’s panel, says it is not yet clear how much large-scale implementation can reduce emissions. Although Pembina endorses the CCS work in Alberta, it also advocates the urgent development of renewable energy, he says.

The Alberta panel will be operating in parallel with a technical committee comprising more than 30 experts from Canada and the US, which three months ago began to review a draft of the world’s first standard for geologic storage of CO2. The objective is to provide essential guidelines for regulators, industry and others involved with scientific and commercial CCS projects.

The other panel members are Peter Cook, chief executive of the Co-operative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies in Western Australia; Andrew Chadwick, head of CO2-storage research at the British Geological Survey; Edward Rubin, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh and founding director of the university’s Centre for Energy and Environmental Studies; and Lawrence Begnal, a geologist and Arkansas governor’s representative to the Interstate Oil and Gas Contact Commission as chairman of the carbon-capture and geological storage task force.

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