CCS Projects: Weyburn, Sask. Q&A
Interview by Antonia McGuire
A 330-kilometre-long pipe connects the oil fields of Weyburn Sask., to a coal gassification
plant in Beulah, North Dakota. Tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) are transported
through it daily to be injected beneath Canadian soil. This example of carbon capture and
storage is seen by many government and industry leaders as a vital way of reducing CO2 emissions.
The federal government sees it not as a quick fix, but rather a means of transforming a low
emissions energy industry. CG spoke with Carolyn K. Preston, executive director of the Petroleum
Technology Research Centre (PTRC), more about the CCS research her centre is spearheading
CG: What is the Weyburn project?
CP: Well, there are actually two Weyburn projects. There is a commercial
oil recovery (EOR) project at the Weyburn oil field that is just over a $1 billion dollar
operation run by EnCana, a major oil company based in Calgary. The second project is a research
project (formally known as the International Energy Agency GreenhouseGas Weyburn-Midale CO2
Monitoring and Storage) managed by PTRC that is being conducted in two phases. In its final
phase, the research project now includes monitoring at nearby Apache Canada’s Midale
CG: Where does the PTRC fit into these projects?
CP: In the Weyburn-Midale CO2 project, the PTRC is taking
a look at the potential to store captured CO2 in the EOR process for a very
long period of time, removing it permanently from the atmosphere. The capture, in this
case, is happening at the Dakota gasification facility in North Dakota.
CG: When did the Weyburn-Midale CO2 project begin?
CP: The first phase began in July 2000. Research so far has indicated
that this formation is highly suitable for long term geological storage — we
are currently working on building a best practices manual for CO2 storage
during the final phase of the Weyburn-Midale CO2 project (2005-2010) and
developing an understanding of the complex nature of oil wellbore integrity over hundreds
of years of CO2 storage.
CG: How is the Weyburn-Midale project important for the environment?
CP: The potential storage is equivalent to removing 8 million cars
off the road for a year. That would be equivalent to the amount of emissions that are
being injected and stored at Weyburn-Midale over their 35 years of operation. Over
a million tonnes a year of CO2 are being injected into the reservoir…producing
a greener, or cleaner oil. Not that the actual emissions of combusting that oil as
a transportation fuel is any lower, but you actually offset that by storing CO2.
CG: It is sort of a Catch-22, isn’t
CP: You’re producing more oil which contributes to more greenhouse
gas emissions but you are doing it more cleanly than you used to. The key is to keep
using our existing infrastructure because we have an infrastructure to providing energy
to consumers whether they are industrial consumers or the average person. We can’t
immediately change to alternative renewable sources of energy. We are slowly going
to convert to those when they become economically feasible. That could take us many
decades while we could begin storing CO2 very soon to reduce our greenhouse
CG: How does carbon storage or injection play a pivotal role for enhanced oil recovery?
CP: In the case of coal-fired power generation stations, they are
producing a rather dilute flue gas. But if you were to couple coal-fired power generation
with CO2 geological
storage — through carbon capture and storage — you would be producing green
electricity. Meaning that there would be no greenhouse gas emissions associated with