One of the most challenging aspects of energy production in the 21 century is dealing with the unwelcome by-products.
While fossil fuels provide about 80 per cent of the world’s daily energy needs, they also produce carbon dioxide emissions that can be harmful to our environment. And in a world where 7 billion people require energy 365 days a year, it’s a challenge that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
In an effort to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, Shell Canada has embarked on an industry-leading program called the Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Project that will send carbon dioxide not up into the sky, but deep into the ground – permanently.
“CCS is one of four pillars within Shell’s greenhouse gas plan, in addition to the use of biofuels, energy efficiency and a transition to natural gas,” says Tim Wiwchar, Quest project manager for Shell Canada. “We believe that fossil fuels will be part of the energy mix going forward, and CCS is a direct way of removing CO2 from our emissions.”
Currently under construction at Shell’s Scotford upgrader near Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Quest CCS Project will cut carbon dioxide emissions from Shell’s oil sands operations by more than a million tonnes a year, by capturing CO2 from the Scotford upgrader and injecting it underground. It’s the equivalent of taking 175,000 cars off the road.
Quest community consultation
Shell landman consults with local resident living adjacent to the Quest pipeline route. Shell has conducted extensive consultation on the Quest Project since 2008 and we will continue to consult throughout the construction and operation.
The CCS process works this way: Once the emission is captured, an amine solvent is added that “scrubs” the CO2 out of the gas stream. The CO2 is released from the amine by heating, then compressed into liquid form so it can be safely transported by pipeline.
“The compressor has enough force to transport the liquid CO2 65 kilometres through the pipeline to the wells, and then it is injected 2.5 kilometres down into an underground reservoir,” says Mr. Wiwchar.
The reservoir for the Quest CCS Project is located in the Basal Cambrian Sands, a saline aquifer with the specific geological formations and mineral composition required to keep the CO2 safely stored underground. Once injected, the CO2 becomes trapped in the tiny pores of the aquifer’s sandstone formations, dissolves in the briny water and begins to solidify.
“The interesting thing is that the longer the CO2 stays down there, the more likely it’s not going to escape as it becomes more solid,” says Mr. Wiwchar.
Another mechanism keeping the CO2 underground is the multiple layers of “cap-rock” above it: Impermeable slate that forms a solid ceiling, topped by a layer of salt. The salt layer is ductile, says Mr. Wiwchar, and so would move with the ebb and flow of the subsurface in the unlikely event of a tremor.
“Those layers provide our confidence in the ceiling,” he says. “We’ve taken water samples of that saline aquifer and water samples a kilometer above it, and we see a distinct difference in the chemical makeup in the aquifer water and the water above it. So, for millions of years, those layers have remained separate, and that gives us confidence.”
To further ensure storage safety, the Quest project has a very stringent measurement, monitoring and verification (MMV) program that includes checking groundwater samples and regular knowledge-sharing with the government of Alberta.
First Quest CO2 Injection Well
The Quest Project will be transporting CO2 from the Scotford Upgrader, near Edmonton, Alberta through an 80 kilometer underground pipeline to between three to eight injection wells. Photo shows the first Quest CO2 injection well in the background.
Mr. Wiwchar points out that the technology involved in each of the three components of CCS – capture, transport and storage – are all proven, safe processes that have been used successfully elsewhere in the world. Projects in places like Norway and Algeria have been doing CO2 injection for years. There are over 6,000km of CO2 pipeline that have successfully been in use in the United States for almost 40 years. “What’s new is keeping it down there permanently,” he says.
“But that’s our task over the next year and a half, to prove to people that we can safely start this up and begin the injection, to prove this can be done and that it’s a technology that can be deployed now for greenhouse gas abatement,” says Mr. Wiwchar.
The Quest CCS Project is one part of Shell’s ongoing commitment to balance the growing demand for energy with the need to preserve the planet for future generations, says David Williams, head of media for Shell Canada.
“We very much believe that the commercial success of the company and the environmental success of the company go hand in hand,” says Mr. Williams. “Those solutions may need upfront investment, you may need to engineer things, it may not always be easy, but it’s something we challenge ourselves to do on a daily basis in every aspect of the business.”
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's advertising department, in consultation with Shell. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.