Here’s what the former Laricina CEO doesn’t like about Pembina’s criticism of solvents in the oilsands

Nsolv's pure-solvent process was piloted by Suncor. Image: Nsolv.

The addition of a hydrocarbon to more efficiently produce a hydrocarbon reservoir doesn’t introduce any meaningful environmental consequences that didn’t already exist, says Glen Schmidt, retired engineer and former CEO of Laricina Energy Ltd.

Responding to a JWN story published earlier this week, Schmidt was “offended” by the Pembina Institute claim that solvent-assisted SAGD (SA-SAGD), while having the potential to reduce CO2 emissions, could lead to “surface or subsurface contamination from the injected solvent.”

Pembina’s statements were taken from a blog posted last week by analyst Benjamin Israel, titled “Using solvents in the oilsands: The good, the bad and the ugly.”

“Instead of good questions that need to be asked, we get this position of superstition and playing on fears that aren’t of substance,” Schmidt said in a telephone interview from Phoenix, Ariz. (Schmidt was one of three top executives to step down from their positions with Laricina at the end of April.)

One of the first projects that Schmidt was involved in after graduating as an engineer in 1981 was a miscible flood of the Nisku “pinnacle” reefs of the Pembina formation.

“We injected propane. We injected ethane and we had recoveries as high as 80 per cent plus. If we just injected water, recovery in those reefs would have been only 40 or 50 per cent (they were excellent reservoirs to start with),” Schmidt said.

His bigger point is that “there were no environmental consequences to the addition of those hydrocarbons that didn’t already exist.”

Israel’s suggestion that the science behind solvents in SAGD is somehow new and not understood is simply not true, he said. It’s a well-established enhanced oil recovery (EOR) tool in the oil and gas sector.

Schmidt was sufficiently frustrated by Israel’s comments to email JWN with numerous other examples of the industry’s understanding and use of solvents for EOR:

  • “U of A’s Peng/Robinson duo developed an equation of state that is well understood and used in oil and gas science. We know the physics and thermodynamics of the hydrocarbon underground. Dr. Bishnoi at U of C developed HYSIM, a piece of software that within it had as an application of Ternary Diagrams to understand miscible flooding in oil and gas. These examples of Alberta scientists are more than 40 years old.
  • Oil and gas reservoirs underground exist because they are a trap for oil. Injecting fluids into these traps is not releasing fluid into the surface environment. Underground storage of oil, gas and NGLs is well known in Edmonton as part of the petrochemical complex. There is no mystery to their safe operation.
  • SC-SAGD, Nsolv, SAP, SA-SAGD are all labels for injecting light hydrocarbon to aid oil recovery. The science of mobilizing oil is well understood. The safe operation is also well understood.”

To Israel’s criticism that “the industry and the government are not adequately prepared to manage wide scale development,” Schmidt says that this argument ignores the regulations that are already in place for what is obviously not a new process.

“One of the greatest strengths that Alberta has in the energy sector worldwide is the quality of its regulatory structure. When it’s measured, it’s best in class, but this framework is often disparaged by people who have an agenda. This is frustrating. Pembina’s position isn’t about the facts. It’s about opposition,” Schmidt said.

Speaking to Israel’s claim that “the oilsands industry has a long history of broken promises when it comes to mitigating its impact on the landscape,” Schmidt says this simply doesn’t speak to the issue at hand.

“The question is: ‘Can we inject light hydrocarbons to enhance oil recovery safely and can it reduce CO2 emissions?’ Absolutely. ‘Can it increase the competitiveness of the oilsands in terms of the environmental footprint?’ Absolutely.

“I’m for discussion and debate, but not at the expense of the facts and the science,” Schmidt said.