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Environmental innovation ongoing despite pandemic-related challenges

Now more than ever, advanced technologies will position the oil and natural gas industry as part of Canada’s ‘green’ recovery.

“Collaboration has never been more crucial,” observes Soheil Asgarpour, president, Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC).

That’s perhaps an understatement. The Canadian natural gas and oil industry is facing an extraordinary confluence of challenges: a COVID-19 pandemic that has drastically altered working conditions and decimated demand; a price war that has prolonged a significant drop in the price of oil; the ongoing issue of resource transportation, primarily focused on pipeline construction; and constant focus on meeting or exceeding environmental targets. 



But as Asgarpour points out, now is not the time to lose focus — or faith — in innovation. 

“To secure the future prosperity and environmental sustainability of the industry, and indeed of the Canadian economy, we must pursue innovation and technology development, not only to reduce costs and environmental impacts, but also to clearly position the industry in Canadians’ hearts and minds as essential to economic recovery,” he notes. 

Asgarpour adds that PTAC, an organization focused on hydrocarbon cleantech and innovation will play a key role in helping ensure Canada’s natural gas and oil industry can be a part of the recovery while meeting its environmental commitments.

"PTAC remains committed to helping Canada become a global hydrocarbon technology leader through research, and sharing industry learnings, best practices and new technologies. As an international, neutral not-for-profit organization, we're in a unique position to help stakeholders from producers to governments make informed decisions through reliable, evidence-based information."

How PTAC enables innovation

Innovators and researchers aggressively pursue capital and build a case for their technology. It’s a tough game, especially in these times where finding investment is more difficult than ever. New technologies must clearly address a need and be effective under real-world operating conditions.

“Inventors and innovators may have a great idea, but often they struggle to get it tested in the field because they cannot secure funding or host sites for testing,” says Asgarpour. 

That’s where PTAC comes in, working with innovators as matchmaker, facilitator, project manager, and even funder for promising technologies. PTAC provides a central gathering place for hundreds of technology providers, producers, academics, government organizations, and investors to collaborate and advance new technologies. Some of the projects are supported through the Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund (AUPRF), a research and development program sponsored by industry and managed by PTAC.

The results speak volumes about the success of this collaborative approach. For example, studies funded under AUPRF have significantly reduced the environmental footprint of oil and natural gas development, while saving producers $78 million annually, through deployment of best practices, smart policies and regulations. In addition to the AUPRF studies, PTAC has facilitated field testing and commercialization of numerous projects that are currently benefiting producers by over $50 million per year through the adoption of new technologies.

The results speak volumes about the success of this collaborative approach. For example, studies funded under AUPRF have significantly reduced the environmental footprint of oil and natural gas development, while saving producers $78 million annually, through deployment of best practices, smart policies and regulations. In addition to the AUPRF studies, PTAC has facilitated field testing and commercialization of numerous projects that are currently benefiting producers by over $50 million per year through the adoption of new technologies.

“Once we include the expected benefits from the increase in uptake of current and underdeveloped technologies and best practices, not to mention smart policies already developed through applied research studies, the value rises to over $400 million per year,” Asgarpour adds.

Methane initiatives

Methane mitigation technologies developed through PTAC consortia are currently reducing methane emissions equal to taking 150,000 cars off the road while reducing industry cost by $15 million. 
 
PTAC's goal is to increase industry technology capacity by 45 per cent by 2021 at a cost of less than $5 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e). This increased capacity will equip producers to meet the 2025 target. PTAC anticipates that accomplishing this goal will save the Canadian energy sector $550 million per year, create 2,300 industry jobs, and help experts and technology providers grow their businesses. PTAC's long-term vision is to increase technology capacity by 90 per cent by 2030.

Recent research

In recent years, PTAC has had a laser focus on research into processes and technologies that reduce or eliminate methane emissions, but that’s not all. Recent studies and projected include: 

  • Abnormal tank venting - research examined fugitive (unintentional) and planned methane releases from fixed-roof tanks in Alberta and B.C., highlighting the importance of determining causes for unplanned emissions and fixing leaks that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Alternative water source life-cycle management - regulations for hydraulic fracturing operations are leaning toward alternative water sources over high-quality non-saline sources. To support this transition, PTAC and researchers developed a risk assessment framework involving the use of treated municipal effluent, and produced and flowback water. The result is a screening tool that provides users with a high-level assessment of the risks associated with alternative water sources.
  • Alberta Water Tool - launched in 2019, the tool provides streamlined access to water supply, demand, and environmental flow needs across more than 200,000k square kilometres of Alberta. The tool can be used at a project’s planning stage for water supply assessment and is regularly provided as supporting material for water use applications.
  • Algar Caribou Habitat Restoration Program - initiated in 2011 by six oil sands companies to improve caribou habitat in northeast Alberta by restoring historic linear disturbances such as roads and seismic lines With consistent understanding of growing seasons and other ecological factors, the scope of work for 2019 helped lay the groundwork for additional data capture.
  • More - PTAC recently released its 2019 annual report, and revamped its quarterly newsletter, which includes information about various current research.

Greening the industry: The key to recovery

Natural gas and oil are essential, not only to Canadians’ quality of life but also to post-pandemic economic recovery, by driving exports, employment and government revenues. With strong environmental standards and a focus on continual improvement through innovation, Canadian natural gas and oil are already part of a ‘green’ recovery. 

Rebuilding Canada’s economy means identifying areas of real opportunity and pursuing them, especially to produce low-emissions natural gas and oil under robust environmental, social and governance conditions. These are key components of a thriving oil and natural gas industry that will be the engine of Canada's future, and organizations such as PTAC are helping the industry improve environmental performance, every day.

 

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