In the stubbornly low commodity price environment with an unprecedented focus on environmental concerns, the oil and gas sector in Alberta is under tremendous pressure to do more, spend less and increase efficiencies across the board.
Enter the technology developers.
Building on a long history of advance in areas such as leak detection, down-hole optimization and emissions abatement, Calgary’s energy technology developers are poised to create solutions to the challenges facing the sector today.
In response, Calgary Economic Development has teamed with Kinetica Ventures, the Government of Alberta and Bennett Jones to launch Innovate Straight: a conversation about getting energy tech innovations to market.
The most recent event focused on reduction of methane emissions with experts from the oil and gas industry, technology developers and the Alberta Energy Regulator discussing one of the key elements of the new provincial climate change policy.
It’s an issue that requires collaborative and innovative energy.
The lively discussion was moderated by Heather Campbell of Sustainable Development Technology Canada. It focused on new policies Alberta and Saskatchewan, raising awareness of existing and emerging technologies along with the challenges of adopting new technology.
The panel – which included representatives from Husky Energy, EnCana, GO Technologies and Questor Technology – also addressed future opportunities for what amounts to wasted energy. In 2012, for example,143 billion cubic meters of methane was flared worldwide.
Methane is the primary component of natural gas.
An agreement between Canada and the United States set a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions – one of the most powerful greenhouse gases – from 2012 levels by 2025 across North America.
The Alberta Energy Regulatory noted restrictions on flaring and venting gas from oilfield wells and facilities in Alberta dates to the early 1990s. Today, oil producers conserve between 94 and 97 per cent of solution gas and Alberta was honored by the World Bank during the 2015 Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership Excellence Awards for its leadership in flaring regulation.
The AER has said it prefers companies developing ways to reach the target rather than applying overly prescriptive regulations.
Groups such as Kinetica Ventures and Sustainable Development Technology Canada are helping companies to identify technologies to address the challenge and reduce risks. Companies developing technology stressed the need for continuous dialogue with industry and regulators.
The producing companies said they are mainly focused on addressing venting, primarily with pneumatics controllers and pumps while addressing fugitive emissions through leak detection and repair technology.
Some panel members see methane as a solution as much as a problem in the oilfield and say a collaborative, made-in-Alberta answer may be emerging.
Associated gas from an oil well, for example, can be cost-effectively captured and compressed for use on site.
Methane emissions are often low volume, intermittent and in remote locations. Panel members agreed all wells and fields are different so a solution that works one place won’t necessarily work elsewhere.
Simply put, there isn’t going to be one technology solution.
In some cases innovation requires a willingness to take risks at a time when industry is capital constrained and companies are risk averse. The industry representatives noted there needs to be a clear line of sight that the technology can be economically viable in the foreseeable future.
The key to success will be moving from pilot project to the commercialization stage and it was suggested that rebates similar to government programs to incent home owners to upgrade to EnergyStar appliances might help.