Hinton exploring the viability of capturing geothermal heat from re-purposed oil and gas wells

Image: Town of Hinton

The Alberta foothills community of Hinton, with a population of 10,000, will become the testing ground for a technology that can convert abandoned oil and gas wells into sources of clean, geothermal energy that could replace natural gas for heating.

The federal and Alberta governments, along with the town, announced Tuesday approval for funding overall of $1.2 million for the project, which could see geothermal heat from wells in the area replace 60,000 to 150,000 gigajoules a year of natural gas.

Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, who is also the Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada, announced federal funding of $400,000 for front end engineering and design (FEED) for a geothermal district energy system.

In addition, the Alberta government and Alberta Innovates said they will provide $800,000 in funding.

It would be the first project in Canada to use one or more oil and gas wells to heat buildings.

The project will create 21 temporary jobs, the participants announced, in a press release.

“I applaud the Town of Hinton for exploring the use of groundbreaking clean technologies to capture and re-purpose geothermal energy for heating,” Bains said.

Shannon Phillips, Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks and also the Minister Responsible for the Climate Change Office, said the project has “transformative” potential.

“This technology … has enormous potential to pave the way for other geothermal projects in Alberta, creating future opportunities to diversify our economy and make life better for all Albertans,” she said.

Hinton Mayor Marcel Michaels, noting that his community has long been a centre of oil and gas development, said the project gives people in Hinton an opportunity “to build their future, not wait for it.”

Joshua Yaworski, the Town of HInton’s communications co-ordinator, said the geothermal project was first proposed to the town council in June 2015 by University of Alberta professor Jonathan Banks.

Banks highlighted a number of other communities in Alberta where the technology also has potential, including the Grande Prairie area.

The town initially contributed $25,000 towards a feasibility study, followed by a contribution of $225,000 in 2016 from traffic ticket reserves to fund a study.

There are over 4,000 wells, with a depth of 2,500 meters or more, within 70 km of Hinton, with temperatures reaching as high as 140 C.

The town and Calgary-based Epoch Energy, specialists in geothermal energy, have already conducted a pre-FEED study that determined that a well pair could recover a significant amount of heat, with the possibility of a 16-year payback and an internal rate of return of five per cent. Epoch will also be involved in the FEED study.

The heat extracted from wells will be used to heat the town’s municipal building, a local high school and several other buildings in Hinton.