Innovation Profile: Anne Halladay captures carbon

Shell scientist works on a technology that can decrease GHG emissions for oil and gas producers, and other industries around the world.

Anne Halladay easily defeats many of the unwarranted stereotypes associated with the oil and natural gas industry.

The main focus of her job, for example, is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. She is working on a key industry project that has already prevented millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from being released into the atmosphere.

In her personal life, Halladay and her family strongly believe in living sustainably: one of her favourite mottos is “living lightly upon the Earth.”

And as a female scientist and unabashed math and science geek, she says she has faced few barriers and much support in her path to a career in oil and natural gas. Articulate and confident, Halladay takes real pride in her work within the oil and gas industry, and her unalloyed conviction that she is helping make the world a better place.

Anne Halladay works for Shell Canada as a subsurface advisor for Quest—a groundbreaking carbon capture and storage (CCS) project located in central Alberta. She also advises on other CCS and GHG-emissions reduction projects for Shell.

One Scientist’s Quest: Living lightly on the Earth

Anne Halladay is a scientist working at Shell’s Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility, helping to prove that CCS is a safe, reliable and effective way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon capture and storage. It’s a compelling idea: take greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide produced at industrial plants, and instead of emitting them into the atmosphere where they would contribute to global warming, send them deep underground to be permanently sequestered away. It’s one possible solution to addressing global GHG emissions, while still allowing for the production of energy needed to meet the demands of a growing world.

The technology exists. Today. But before you get too excited, CCS is still in development. It requires testing. Scientists and engineers need to understand its impacts, and how to optimize it for commercial viability.

One of the scientists working on a promising CCS project is Halladay. A key part of her job is monitoring the carbon being stored underground, using sophisticated techniques and technologies to ensure it is staying put.

If she can help prove CCS is safe and reliable—and so far at Quest, it is—this could lead to the next generation of CCS projects, and the full realization of CCS as a key tool in the battle against climate change.

Halladay’s journey to become part of the CCS vanguard began in her youth, growing up in a community just outside of Toronto. She recalls spending a lot of time at summer camps in the Muskoka area

“That was one of the bigger influences on me in terms of environmental responsibility and stewardship,” she says.

The summer camp Halladay attended focused on outdoor activities including swimming and wilderness camping, as well as comprehensive earth-education programs—with a lot of emphasis on environmental stewardship and nature-based activities. The camp had a theme of “Living lightly upon the Earth”.

“That’s still a phrase that resonates with me—how do I live lightly upon the Earth?” says Halladay. She and her family of four try to follow this value as best they can, including commuting to work by bicycle, choosing to eat locally sourced produce, and finding ways to be more energy efficient and energy smart at home.

Married to her commitment to the environment is a passion for the sciences.

“I have always been unusual, I guess, in that I really enjoy and have always been good at math and science,” says Halladay. “It was no surprise to anybody when I decided to enroll in engineering studies.”

Eye-opening opportunities in oil and natural gas

Initially, Halladay had planned to pursue a more theoretical scientific degree in math or physics. However, after attending an orientation session for geological engineering at Queens University, she realized the field offered a unique opportunity for her.

The program at Queens emphasized sustainable resource development: meaning she could both explore her deep interest in math and science, while also answering her desire to make a difference on environmental challenges. She ended up completing a geological engineering degree from Queens University in the mid-90s.

Halladay’s introduction to the oil and natural gas industry came soon after, when she took a summer job working for Petro Canada in Alberta.

“It’s that classic story—your first summer in the oil patch, especially when you come from outside of Alberta, is quite an eye-opener,” says Halladay.

She was immediately impressed by the scope and scale of projects, the use of cutting-edge technologies, and the numerous opportunities to apply her scientific training to solve real-world challenges.

“Not only do you have access to amazing technology and data—the problems that you get to work on are unparalleled,” says Halladay.

It became a “no-brainer” for a science nerd from Ontario with a strong belief in sustainable living to enroll in the Masters of Geophysics degree at the University of Calgary. Upon graduating, Halladay started working for Canada’s oil and natural gas industry.

Making the case for CCS

For the past five years, Halladay has worked with Shell on its Quest CCS project. While some have expressed skepticism over CCS, Halladay believes it can be a vital tool in combatting climate change.

“It’s actually nothing new,” Halladay points out regarding CCS. She notes that industry has been successfully conducting carbon capture and storage for years. “This is a problem we know how to solve. We know how to do carbon capture. We know how to build pipelines to transport it. And we know how to store it safely underground.

“From a technical point of view, there’s no problem. It gives many of us in the CCS industry a lot of confidence.”

There are several challenges, however, facing broader application of CCS as a method for reducing industrial GHG emissions. One is cost. Costs will need to come down for the technology to be used more widely. Another is building confidence in the technology among regulators, industrial users, and the public.

In many respects, the Quest project is a proving ground for these challenges.

Quest, which began operations in 2015, was initiated by Shell Canada with support from both the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada. It was created to capture and store CO2 produced by the Scotford Upgrader just outside of Edmonton.

While the project is having a very real and practical impact on reducing GHG emissions—it captured and stored two-million tonnes of CO2 in its first two years of operation—it was also conceived of as a pivotal demonstration project.

“Part of our role is to demonstrate we can do CCS safely,” says Halladay. “We’re trying to de-risk the technology.”

Halladay notes that there are concerns and questions about CCS: Is it too costly? Can we be certain the CO2 will stay permanently underground? How do we mitigate risks to the environment or public? Quest is intended to such questions, and pave the way for future CCS projects by building on the knowledge and experiences gathered.

As a result, Halladay and her team spend much of their time developing state-of-the-art monitoring and measuring techniques, while gathering and analyzing data, for instance, on how well the CO2 is staying sequestered underground.

“Knowledge sharing is a huge component of our work,” says Halladay, “We play an active role in disseminating that knowledge, both internally and internationally.”

She notes, for example, that any member of the public looking to build their own CCS project can find information on the Government of Alberta website on how to do so: everything from plans, to best practices and regulatory standards. Halladay and her team also attend and provide presentations about Quest at various symposia and conferences worldwide related to CCS development.

In addition, her team works closely with industry regulators, providing a stream of data and reports on the project. This information should play an important role in ensuring regulations for future CCS projects are science-based, effective and efficient.

She notes that the successes of the Quest project to date have helped convince governments, regulators and other CCS developers around the world on the great potential for CCS moving forward.

Building on success

“We hold the record for the most CO2 injected and permanently sequestered in a calendar year,” says Halladay, “Our project is doing very, very well.”

She notes that the Quest project has so far exceeded expectations, thanks in part to the fact that they are working with a “beautiful reservoir” in which to inject CO2 underground. Using multiple methods for monitoring and measuring, Halladay and her team are able to verify that the CO2 is indeed staying underground where it should.

“Site selection is important,” says Halladay, noting that a reservoir needs to be deep enough underground and located under a rock layer that doesn’t have any major faults or fractures that could allow the CO2 to leak back up to the surface. Fortunately, notes Halladay, Alberta has one of the best and safest places in the world to do carbon capture and storage.

On the cost front, Halladay says, “We’re getting there.” The learnings from the Quest project will hopefully lead to more efficient regulations. And like anything else, early iterations of a technology are always the most expensive. As CCS technology evolves, costs should fall. Indeed, Halladay says that she’s spoken with the engineers who helped build Quest and they believe the same facility could be built today for about 30 per cent lower cost.

“There’s value in duplication and in learning what works,” she says. Halladay also sees opportunity to improve feasibility on the carbon capture side—through reduced costs and the potential creation of secondary products. For example, she’s excited by the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE that has challenged innovators around the world to come up with ways of converting industrial CO2 emissions into valuable products. The finalists were announced in April, with ideas ranging from [insert products proposed by finalists].

“We all would like to do more CCS,” Halladay says of her team of researchers and engineers. “The cherry on top would be to demonstrate that we can do this again, better, and do it even in this cash-constrained, lower-for-longer oil and gas market.”

Making a difference

Halladay is happy to have found her way into the area of CCS research and development.

“This burgeoning CCS industry is a unique place to be. It enables a lot of nerdy, technical people to still be nerdy and technical, and yet make a contribution to the climate challenge. I feel that’s very unique,” says Halladay.

It’s also very rewarding to be part of a project that is proving that CCS is a viable option for reducing global GHG emissions.

“That lets me hold my head up high when I go to conferences, or talk to my friends in Vancouver, or go back home to Toronto,” says Halladay.

“There’s some very negative misconceptions about the oil and gas industry and it’s nice to be part of the solution. It’s nice to be able to say that my actions help reduce our carbon footprint here in Alberta by a million tonnes a year.”

With a note of wry self-deprecation, Halladay adds, “I know I’ve drunk a little Kool-Aid on that [CCS]; but when you see the benefits your work can bring to a multitude of stakeholders, it’s hard not to believe in it.”

In this article, Context speaks with:
  • Anne Halladay Subsurface Advisor, Shell Canada