With depressed oil and natural gas prices and unprecedented focus on environmental issues, Alberta’s energy industry is under tremendous pressure to do more, spend less and improve performance while increasing efficiency across the board.
Enter the technology developers.
With a track record of advances in areas such as leak detection, down-hole optimization and emissions abatement, Calgary’s energy technology developers are poised to create solutions to the broad range of challenges facing the sector today.
To assist them, Calgary Economic Development has teamed with Kinetica Ventures, the Government of Alberta and law firm Bennett Jones to launch Innovate Straight: a series of conversations about getting energy tech innovation to market.
The most recent session focused on reducing methane emissions and included industry, technology developers and the Alberta Energy Regulator discussing one of the key elements of the new provincial climate change policy.
The discussion was moderated by Heather Campbell, regional director for Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC). It focused on the 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 the opportunities to make use of what is currently wasted energy. In 2012, there was 147 billion cubic meters of methane was flared worldwide.
Methane is the main component of natural gas and one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. An agreement between Canada and the United States set a 40 to 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions from 2012 levels by 2025 across North America.
The Alberta Energy Regulatory noted restrictions on flaring and venting in Alberta dates to the early 1990s. Today, producers conserve 94 and 97 per cent of solution gas and in 2015 Alberta was honoured by the World Bank during the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership Excellence Awards for its leadership in flaring regulation. The AER said it prefers that companies develop their own ways to meet the objective rather than applying prescriptive regulations.
Groups like Kinetica and SDTC help companies identify technologies that address the challenges they face and reduce risks. Companies developing the 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 reducing fugitive emissions through leak detection and repair technology.
Some panel members see methane as a solution as much as a problem in the oil field and contend that a collaborative, made-in-Alberta answer is 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 and a solution that works one place won’t necessarily work elsewhere.
Simply put, there isn’t going to be one “silver bullet” solution.
In some cases innovation requires a willingness to take risks at a time when industry is capital constrained and companies are risk averse. Industry representatives said there needs to be a clear line of sight to a time in the foreseeable future when the technology can be economically viable.
The key to success will be to move ideas from pilot projects to commercialization and it was suggested that session rebates similar to government programs that enticed home owners to upgrade to EnergyStar appliances might help.
The next Innovate Straight event will be in May or June 2016. If you have a topic you’d like to discuss at future sessions please e-mail Megan Zimmerman.
Megan Zimmerman is Business Development Manager for Clean Technology and Renewable Energy for Calgary Economic Development. Dayla Maisey is a manager at Kinetica Ventures.