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Source: ZE

With all the talk about stemming the flow of greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the world’s population’s carbon footprint on earth, and the fight over global warming, the idea of simply storing carbon dioxide (CO2) gasses back underground – from where we originally took the oil and natural gases that we burn – almost seems too simple to work.

However, that’s exactly what is going on in Canada today, and with plans to expand in Alberta with two projects and the potential to store 2.76 million tonnes of CO2 annually, starting as early as 2015.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a relatively new process (already occurring in areas that are naturally full of oil, gas, and deep rock formations, like Norway and Algeria) that captures and stores CO2 deep underground to help reduce the carbon footprint of large industrial sources and is part of a larger goal to reduce 70% of the greenhouse gases output from transportation and energy usage in the province (according to the Government of Alberta’s Carbon Capture and Storage website). The emissions are captured, liquefied, and injected into porous rock that can hold the CO2 a minimum of one kilometer underground, under a rock cap that doesn’t allow for leakage upward.

In addition, pushing this CO2 into the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, where Alberta’s oil and gas is found, allows the oil that is locked in those spaces to move freer. This allows the oil that is still in those rock caverns to be captured easier, giving Alberta another 30 years’ worth of production (1.4 billion barrels worth), maintainable job creation, and increased royalties ($11-25 billion), according to the Government of Alberta. The Alberta Government also estimates that all of Canada’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions could be stored for “at least 100 years and potentially 1,000 years.”

carbon capture blog exports to usa

Figure 1: Canadian Oil and Natural Gas Exports to the U.S. (Graph Created with ZEMA)

In Figure 1 above, I used our energy data management software, the ZEMA Suite, to take a look at the trends of oil and gas production in Canada (based on the amount we export to our largest importers, the United States). As we continue to use these energy forms in Canada, the need for CCS will continue to be an important tool in keeping Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions at regulated levels.

Global Carbon Storage & Safety

Quick facts about carbon capture and storage in Alberta:

  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a technology that can be used in a number of industries to reduce CO2 emissions, including those produced by oil sands bitumen upgrading.
  • Alberta is investing $1.3 billion* over 15 years in two large scale CCS projects.
  • The projects are expected to reduce GHG emissions by 2.76 million tonnes annually beginning in 2016. That is the equivalent of taking 550,000 vehicles off Alberta roads.

Source: Alberta Government

The goal for CCS is that after the CO2 is stored for a long time (currently undetermined as to what that time is needed), the CO2 will convert into part of the rock formation. There is no guarantee the CO2 emissions will remain underground, but the Alberta Government says, “after it is injected, the site will be sealed and closely monitored to ensure there is no leakage or impact on public safety or the environment.”

Norway’s Statoils Sleipner Project is the world’s first commercial-scale CCS project, and since starting operations in 1996 has not reported any experiences of leakage. But, it’s back in Canada where we see the world’s biggest and first-ever CO2 monitoring project in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, running successfully.

According to CCS101.ca, the IEA GHG Weyburn-Midale CO2 project “has injected over 17 million tonnes into the Weyburn-Midale oilfields in and around Weyburn, Saskatchewan. By the end of operation this project is expected to hold roughly 40 million tonnes of CO2 that would have otherwise been vented into the atmosphere. That’s over a tonne of CO2 for every Canadian.” The future of CCS in Canada seems to be set in stone for some time to come.

ZEMA graph created courtesy of Ian Mathieson.

*Amount corrected from original Alberta Government source, August 19.