Energy Excellence Awards: Leading industry accelerators advancing solutions to methane emissions, industry sustainability

The second annual Energy Excellence Awards (EEAs) program, presented by the Daily Oil Bulletin, uniquely recognizes energy excellence and focuses on the advancement of collaboration within Canada’s energy industry.

The country’s oil and gas industry is entering what could be the most challenging period it has ever experienced. While the current COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly touch each one of this year’s nominees, there may be no better time to celebrate the achievements of those developing the energy solutions for the future.

For 2020, the DOB received close to 90 nominations in four broad awards categories — Project Execution Excellence; Innovation & Technology Excellence; Exporting Excellence; and Environmental Excellence — recognizing work completed last year. The nominees were further broken down into 12 subcategories across the four groupings, before being judged by a committee of industry leaders.

From April 21 to May 6, we will be sharing the finalists in each of these subcategories. Today, we feature the best in Project Execution Excellence in the subcategory of Industry Accelerators.

Special Note: Starting May 7, we’ll be hosting a series of special online webinar presentations to honour these companies and announce the champions in each category. Register here for these events.


For all its multiplicity and competitiveness, the Canadian oil and gas industry has also shown tremendous ability to collaborate when necessary — such as to solve technological and environmental challenges common to the sector.

The spirit of collaboration has accelerated technology advancement in several areas to keep the industry on the leading edge of sustainable development at a time when economic and environmental sustainability rein supreme. As a lower-for-longer price environment looks set to persist through another year, the pooling of resources to solve common challenges is set to become even more vital to sustain the industry for better days ahead.

Finalists in the Industry Accelerators category focused on challenges as varied as meeting methane emissions reductions targets in a cost-effective way, to maintaining Canada’s lead in sustainable natural gas production, to improving steam efficiency and trimming emissions in oilsands production.

Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada: Methane field challenge cuts cost of emissions reductions

In 2016, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico signed on to a commitment to cut oil and gas industry methane emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2025. In most cases, that means instituting potentially costly leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs — unless other methods can be found to bring about the same outcome at a cheaper cost.

While a virtual explosion in technology innovation is underway to bring down the cost of monitoring and mitigating emissions, as big a challenge could be show those technologies can bring about the mandated emissions reductions — the equivalency test that must be passed to be considered a mandated solution.

That is the challenge Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) took on with its Alberta Methane Field Challenge. A joint effort between multiple consultants, industry, experts and organizations, the AMFC is a part of a broader program conceptualized for methane emissions characterization from the oil and gas industry in Western Canada.

Its objective was to assess the performance of new methane emissions detection and quantification methods in a real-world setting in comparison with conventional optical gas imaging (OGI) leak detection surveys. It identified new methods and technology that may inform viable alternative LDAR program development suitable to meet Alberta and British Columbia emissions reduction requirements at significantly lower cost.

Two iterations of the program were conducted in June and November, each including 10 days of field surveying at the same 50 operational oil and gas sites near Rocky Mountain House, Alta.

The program presented logistical challenges as eight teams from Canada and the U.S. co-ordinated to arrive in Rocky Mountain House trained with all the health and safety requirements of the oil and gas industry, with their respective equipment and sensors, all at once, to collaborate for the 10 days of field testing.

For example, the health and safety training checklist presented a unique challenge for certain requirements, namely H2S Alive, which is an Alberta-centric program. Just one organization in the continental United States offers the H2S Alive (Energy Safety Canada) training needed in Alberta. PTAC’s team was able to have U.S.-based teams trained by this organization in the U.S. prior to coming to Alberta for the field program.

Additionally, U.S. teams encountered delays at customs and had to pre-ship equipment to Canada, and it was necessary to fast-track approvals for site access for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

In some respects, the program was perceived as a “competition” or “showdown” by project teams that sought constantly to emphasize the collaborative aspect of the work, through attitude, planned meetings, behaviour and communication, PTAC explained. “The success of these efforts was seen throughout the program, with teams continually assisting each other, sharing information and collaborating, without sacrificing the independence of the measurements.”

After establishing an initial schedule at meetings held each morning, field co-ordination was maintained throughout the day using a messaging application in order to help teams avoid each other in the field and allow the project management team to track all activities remotely. The app also allowed for real-time communication of issues encountered on individual sites related to health and safety, and weather concerns.

The process of sharing documentation required between the participating teams and the project management team (health and safety certificates, contracts, data templates, log templates, reporting policies, site access agreements etc.) was all done electronically using secure shared folders for each team.

The number of sites visited exceeded expectations, with eight teams conducting 516 emissions surveys in 10 days of field work in the June program. “The execution of the field program was an overwhelming success and was the product of hours of preparation and planning meetings that included experts, academics and industry, collaborating across many organizations,” said PTAC. “With dynamic programs and a dynamic team, it was possible to improve upon the study design for the second iteration of the program in November to include in-situ controlled release methane testing.”

Satellite, aerial, UAV, vehicle, handheld and fixed technologies were all used to detect methane emissions at either an equipment, component or site level. OGI surveys formed the reference case for all surveys in both programs. “Unlike many other research programs, this program was designed to test performance in a real-world setting, on operating oil and gas sites,” noted PTAC.

Reducing methane emissions from oil and gas sites in Western Canada has the potential to significantly contribute to reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years, and the use of alternative methods to OGI will play a role in achieving this, it said.

Natural Gas Innovation Fund: Filling a technology development gap

Known as the cleanest fossil fuel — and one that could provide the bridge to the transition to a low-carbon future — natural gas already enjoys a low emissions reputation. But it could be even cleaner.

To get there, the Natural Gas Innovation Fund (NGIF), a first of its kind industry-led cleantech accelerator, was created by the Canadian Gas Association to support the funding of pre-commercial innovation along Canada’s natural gas value chain.

It fills a technology development gap in the petroleum sector by investing in innovation led by cleantech start-ups and small- and medium-sized enterprises developing natural gas technology solutions for current and emerging challenges — solutions that increase the environmental, economic and social performance of the natural gas industry.

NGIF accelerates cleantech commercialization by scouting, selecting and approving as an industry, applicants and projects with a solution that is relevant to the needs of Alberta and Canada. It provides non-dilutive funding to accelerate the pace of the right clean technologies for the natural gas energy sector. When it approves a project with its trusted investment model, it sends a signal to the market to allow its approved companies to attract more capital for their project.

The fund can also help cleantech projects and start-up companies overcome technological barriers by providing capital that does not demand short-term financial returns and by allowing clean technology developers the freedom to innovate without requiring intellectual property ownership. It assists by sharing the economic uncertainty in development pilots, which come with significant risks.

NGIF’s success can be measured in many ways. “We are now recognized as an integral part of Canada’s innovation and cleantech ecosystem and demonstrated increased confidence on the natural gas industry’s actions on environmental performance in cleantech innovation,” said the fund.

“Our mission is to build a diversified portfolio of successful investments, strategic partnerships and a trusted investment model that, combined, deliver on improved environmental and economic performance for the natural gas value chain. Our mandate is to take action and advance the most promising enterprises in cleantech innovation and support them through their projects to commercialization and market success.”

Since NGIF became operational in 2017, it has launched seven funding calls and received 207 applications showing continued demand for NGIF funding. It has approved for funding $7.9 million into 27 cleantech companies with total eligible project cost investments of $82.4 million with co-funding from industry and provincial and federal governments.

Project investments to date include advanced clean technologies that can be deployed to reduce or eliminate methane venting and fugitive emissions, for heat and power generation and renewable gases (renewable natural gas, hydrogen and synthetic methane), for capturing CO2 and either geologically sequestering it or converting it into useful products, and for liquefied natural gas production and export (gas processing, liquefaction, natural gas liquids recovery).

“NGIF has a unique opportunity where its investors are also the customers and have the unique opportunity to demonstrate and validate the technologies in their own respective operations — significantly accelerating the start-up from the discovery to customer creation,” stated NGIF. “These investors are working together in NGIF in a first-of-kind industry collaboration model supporting cleantech start-ups in Canada.”

NGIF member companies are: Birchcliff Energy Ltd., Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Chevron Canada Limited, Perpetual Energy Inc., PETRONAS Energy Canada Ltd., Shell Canada Energy, Tourmaline Oil Corp., ATCO Gas Ltd., Enbridge Gas Inc., FortisBC Energy Inc., Pacific Northern Gas Ltd. and SaskEnergy.

Emissions Reduction Alberta: Oilsands innovation challenge ignites invention

In relative terms, the oilsands is still a nascent sector known for its high cost and high emissions production. It is also known as a sector that values innovation and collaboration like no other. Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is working to accelerate that innovation to keep the oilsands on the leading edge of technology development to future proof the sector in an increasingly climate conscious world.

ERA’s $60 million Oil Sands Innovation Challenge funded eight potentially transformative technologies to enhance the competitiveness of Alberta’s oilsands industry and reduce GHG emissions. “ERA is taking action to help Alberta to be recognized as the world’s most progressive and forward-looking energy producer,” it said.

Today, the oilsands sector emits more than 70 megatonnes of GHGs each year, accounting for more than a quarter of Alberta’s annual emissions, which at 273 megatonnes in 2017 represented almost 40 per cent of total Canadian emissions.

ERA estimates the projects supported will result in a reduction of 2.2 megatonnes of annual CO2 equivalent emissions by 2030, equivalent to more than 220,000 homes’ energy use for one year. The market reductions will reach 9.1 megatonnes of annual CO2e reductions by 2030.

The need to do better is not just environmental, ERA said: “Alberta’s industry must continually find innovative ways to remain competitive in a global, low-carbon commodity market. To support this, ERA accelerates the development and demonstration of innovative, emissions-reducing technologies.”

All projects funded include a major oilsands producer as the lead applicant or a substantial partner and all field demonstrations are required to occur at an Alberta oilsands site. All of the technologies are in the final stages of development and each has the potential to transform Alberta’s oilsands development by significantly reducing emissions, capital and operating costs.

By leveraging on a 10-to-one basis, the funding represents a combined project value of more than $680 million, representing ERA’s biggest challenge to date in terms of leveraging funding.

To date, 75 per cent of completed projects are ready to be commercialized and will deliver up to 50 per cent reduction in operating costs. The investments have also created more than 1,000 new jobs.

Since 2009, ERA has invested the price on carbon paid by large industrial emitters directly into later-stage clean technology solutions. In total, ERA has committed more than $564 million in funding to 165 projects with a total value of more than $4.3 billion. It is estimated these projects will bring 20,900 jobs to Alberta by 2024 with an overall GDP impact of $3 billion.

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance: Full steam ahead for SAGD steam generation

The most commonly used metric for steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) oilsands production may be the steam-oil ratio — the amount of steam required per unit of bitumen produced. But efficient production of the steam itself is also a big factor in in situ oilsands productivity.

And part of that equation is determining the efficiency of the boilers used, the stringency of water quality required for the boiler used to convert process water into steam and ultimate steam quality.

A unique collaboration involving Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an alliance of oilsands producers that account for over 90 per cent of the oilsands production in Canada, and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) is working to solve that equation. In so doing, their work will assist other sectors that use similar process technologies.

Conventional boilers like the once-through steam generators (OTSG) commonly used by SAGD producers — there are over 150 OTSGs in Alberta alone, and many more in use across Canada — are generally not efficient at using poor quality feed water. They are generally able to tolerate feed water with total dissolved solids of up to 12,000 parts per million, to convert it to 78 per cent steam quality.

SAIT is home to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Oil Sands In Situ Steam Generation. The goal of the program is to develop and assess the steam-water cycle, treatment processes and GHG reduction strategies associated with the prevention of tube fouling in OTSGs in order to enhance energy efficiency and reduce environmental impacts.

The program leverages advances in clean energy technologies from relevant disciplines such as water-steam chemistry, instrumentation, chemical technology, process operations and environmental engineering in order to study and reduce fouling in bare tubes, while enhancing steam quality and improving energy efficiency.

SAIT operates two novel OTSG test rigs that replicate, at one-thousandths scale, commercial OSTGs. Each rig is designed to test one cubic metre of poor quality boiler feed water per day sourced from various SAGD, cyclic steam stimulation and other in situ steam processes from various oilsands and heavy oil production facilities.

The unique configuration of the test rigs allow for steam bundles to be swapped after each experiment in order to investigate how tube fouling can be prevented. The test rigs were the result of years of intellectual property development undertaken by scientists and engineers from the ConocoPhillips R&D facility in Bartlesville, Okla., and transferred to SAIT.

Because H2O quality can vary significantly from formation to formation, achieving better steam quality in OTSGs can be “daunting and not an easy challenge to solve,” according to project participants.

The goal of increasing steam production to over 90 per cent would decrease the blowdown wastewater to less than 10 per cent, increase the recycle of water and reduce overall water usage. The prevention of tube fouling would also reduce the amount of natural gas required to fire up the boilers, resulting in reduced GHG emissions.

The broader benefits of this technology are several because of its applicability to other industrial sectors and applications, from geothermal, natural gas and nuclear power plants and waste incineration plants to applications in agriculture, steel, chemicals and pulp and paper.

“The new learnings from this technology will help to build upon critical knowledge and skills in in-situ steam generation and provide a platform to launch clean technology solutions that address current challenges and result in environmental sustainability, thus benefitting society and boosting the economy,” said project participants.


The Project Execution Excellence awards category is brought to you by our Industry partner, Fluor Canada.

Since 1949, Fluor Canada has been involved in the engineering, procurement and construction of a wide range of energy related projects that are spread across the Canadian landscape. Throughout its 70-year history in Canada, Fluor has provided local, regional and international clients with full-service capabilities, which include economic evaluations, conceptual engineering, feasibility studies, program management, detailed engineering, procurement, transportation and logistics, modularization, fabrication, direct-hire construction, construction management, commissioning, start-up, operations and maintenance.

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