The oil and gas industry is by far the energy giant of Canada. Over the years, it has had incredible contributions to the economy, and is currently employing >400,000 specialized Canadians across the country. The sector is consistently updating its environmental standards, and is working towards being the cleanest version it can, slowly incorporating greener practices into its day-to-day activities.
Despite the great environmental strides in this sector, an issue that is currently on the rise is the so-called “abandoned wells crisis”. To abandon an oil/gas well, energy companies are rigorously monitored and tasked with cementing the well bore, and cleaning up the site to approximate pre-operative conditions. The steps needed to complete the process can be costly, and banks are not likely to lend financial support. On top of this, more and more wells are depleting their reserves every day across the country, most abundantly in Alberta and Saskatchewan. As such, abandoning these wells is becoming an increasingly burdensome affair.
An innovative solution has recently been proposed in the Canadian field: converting abandoned well bores to geothermal energy systems. The pilot project, based out of Calgary and being conducted in Saskatchewan, will deal with currently active wells, and will aim for co-production of oil and geothermal heat energy. In the short-term, the producer adds value to the well by heating a greenhouse (ie: to grow tomatoes), and in the long-term, abandonment costs are alleviated by converting the facility into a geothermal system.
Converting wells would use similar services as those currently used for working-over and completing wells, meaning companies will not need to create brand-new services and technologies. In fact, converting as little as 10% of Alberta’s 78,000 suspended wells would create hundreds of jobs for existing servicing firms and defer the cost of abandonment for energy companies.
Our neighbours to the South have undertaken similar projects for years – Chevron being the global leader in geothermal use since the 1960s. However, past projects have dealt mainly with near-surface geothermal heat for power generation, whereas this pilot project will be working at greater depths for heat generation.
Naturally the project will depend on local geothermal conditions, and more research into the area is needed, but it is a big step forward by way of “upcycling” in the Canadian energy industry! Depending on the success of these pilot projects, future projects could involve creating an agro-oil industry: building greenhouses and trapping the geothermal heat to grow a variety of crops locally, thereby reducing our reliance on imported produce. A win-win situation for buying locally and minimizing our country’s greenhouse gas emissions!
The sort of “upcycling” of old well bores is an innovative concept that is a testament to the bright ideas circulating in the Canadian energy industry, I look forward to seeing what’s next!
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