The

Challenge

2017-18 DRAGONS

Mike Johnson, MSc, Technical Lead of the Energy Supply Team at the National Energy Board of Canada.

Melanie Popp, P.Eng., Director of Engineering at GeoLOGIC Systems, APEGA Councillor, Board Member of Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources, and Founder of 306 Energy Consultants.

Jérôme Marty, PhD, Project Director at the Council of Canadian Academies. Previously, Jérôme was a Research Scientist at the St. Lawrence River Institute, Director of Environment at WSP Canada, Science Advisor at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and led a report for the Great Lakes Commission on the sensitivity of the Great Lakes to oil exposure using multiple modes of transport.

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Challengers

Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

Supplying liquefied natural gas to remote communities: Freeze or go full steam ahead?

When cooled, natural gas can be liquefied (LNG) and shipped by tanker, barge, truck and rail. LNG shipped by these alternative methods could help to fuel remote communities, which currently have limited energy options. The Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations Community, located between Edmonton and Fort McMurray, Alberta, for instance, who currently obtain their energy from coal and diesel and have expressed concerns regarding air quality and health issues.

In this context, it is important to note that fuel technologies that may not be economically viable in urban areas could still be economical in remote areas where there are limited energy options and therefore higher-than-average energy prices. 

For example, when world oil prices were more than $100US per barrel, projects to convert natural gas to diesel fuel were under consideration by some companies in western Canada, since the feedstock cost of gas was low while the price of diesel was high enough that the venture might have been profitable despite the high capital and operating costs of gas-to-liquid (GTL) facilities. 

This project requires the examination of a tight-gas play that would support a 100 kb/d GTL facility over 40 years. Look at the geologic extent of the play in the field, the typical decline curves and the estimated ultimate recovery (EUR) of the wells drilled there. Even with the decline in oil prices, there is still a significant price differential between oil and gas on an energy-equivalent basis.

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Hydraulic Fracturing

Addressing risks of hydraulic fracturing with novel drilling and stimulation technologies

Hydraulic fracturing (HF) is a well-completion method that involves injecting into a subsurface formation a slurry of water mixed with proppant material (usually sand) and other additives such as surfactants. HF fluids are pumped at high pressures that are sufficient to create tensile opening fractures in a subsurface reservoir, thus increasing the permeability. 

Although HF technology has been in commercial use for decades, the widespread deployment of massive multi-stage HF for development of low-permeability hydrocarbon resources has proliferated in recent years in the U.S., and Canada. 

This technology, in combination with long-reach horizontal drilling, has had a game-changing global economic impact, but has also led to major public backlash as symbolized by negative connotations ascribed by the general public to the term “fracking”. For instance, the east coast Mi’kmaq Community has expressed concern that this technique contravenes their cultural responsibility as custodians of the lands and waters.

The purpose of this Challenge is to conduct a thorough and balanced examination of the environmental, social and economic implications of unconventional extraction methods using information that is unbiased and scientifically sound. 

As part of this work, the source of data and the conditions under which it was collected should be critically examined.

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Induced Seismicity

Induced seismicity, well azimuth, and completion economics in the Duvernay

In some areas the development of low permeability unconventional resources has resulted in anomalous induced seismicity, in the form of small-to-moderate earthquakes triggered by subsurface fluid injection. Although neither injuries nor property damage have yet occurred in Canada, induced seismicity has raised widespread public concerns, including the Alexander First Nations community northwest of Edmonton, and has prompted regulatory measures and even moratoria.

One measure for managing risks has involved the introduction of “traffic-light systems” that require operators to monitor seismic activity in the vicinity of a well completion program, activate a mitigation protocol in response to small induced events (“amber” condition) and to halt operations in response to a larger event (“red” condition).

A number of risk factors for hydraulic-fracturing induced seismicity have been proposed. For example, most unconventional horizontal wells are drilled NW–SE to maximize transverse fracture propagation along the wellbore. Since the land registry system in western Canada is based on a NS–EW grid pattern, this diagonal drilling method impedes use of the remainder of the plot of land and, therefore, is less efficient in terms of resource development. Given the in situ stress conditions, there is evidence that wells drilled NS are more likely to induce an earthquake sequence.

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Pipeline vs. Rail

Pipeline versus rail: Quantitative comparison between the transportation of crude oil and the cost to society

Crude or refined oil and gas products need to be transported in large volumes over great distances. Overland transportation typically makes use of pipeline or rail modes of transportation. However, plans to develop new pipelines in order to accommodate increased production capacity from unconventional resource development have increasingly been met with stiff public opposition. 

This opposition to pipeline expansion can lead to the unintended consequence of increasing reliance on rail transportation, which is less safe. One aspect of such opposition is addressing the Prophecy of the Black Snake, interpreted by some to be a gas pipeline, which is embedded in Indigenous cultural beliefs. 

In this context, it is useful to consider the regulatory framework (or lack thereof) for other types of land use. For example, recent proposals to install a Calgary–Edmonton or Toronto–Montreal hyperloop system would involve land use and environmental impacts similar to pipelines, yet there is no existing regulatory framework for the development of hyperloop corridors. 

Competing public perception, sociopolitical, economic and regulatory aspects of these different types of developments will be major factors with respect to innovation, investment and environmental consequences.

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Fugitive Gas Emissions

Toward a better understanding of methane emissions from individual energy wells in Canada

Expansion of shale gas extraction has spurred concerns regarding the potential impact of fugitive gas migration and emissions contributing to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere linked to global climate. Fugitive gas emissions may occur at the shale gas well sites, impacting the environment by escaping through the energy well via surface casing vent flows (SCVFs). Fugitive gas migration can also occur in the vicinity of the wells via shallow aquifers through the water-unsaturated zone towards the atmosphere. In addition, some methane emissions to the atmosphere are associated with transport and processing of natural gas from shale gas plays.

The purpose of this Challenge is to explore the major sources, and estimate the fluxes, of fugitive methane released into the atmosphere in conjunction with the development of unconventional hydrocarbon resources on a group-selected jurisdiction in Canada. For example, the Siksika First Nation Community east of Calgary, Alberta, have concerns regarding a number of energy wells on their lands. There are plans to impose stricter fugitive gas emission regulations in Canada, but monitoring the efficiency of such measures requires accurate data on current methane emissions to the atmosphere associated with the shale gas industry. Current “baseline” data are mainly provided by regulators and by industry, but self-reported industry data have been criticized as unrealistic. Methane leakage from wells is well documented, but current emission levels via SCVFs and gas migration remain uncertain. Although there are plans to impose stricter fugitive gas emission regulations, it is difficult to evaluate the efficiency of such measures without a more accurate assessment of current fugitive methane emissions and its key sources.

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Orphan Wells

Analysis of contamination, remediation and geothermal potential of orphan wells in Alberta

Modern oil and gas development requires hundreds to thousands of wells to be drilled within a single tight gas or oil field and it may require tens of thousands of wells to fully develop a play. All wells are ultimately abandoned at the end of their productive lives. There is a potential risk of a well becoming “orphaned”, a condition of not having any legally accountable and/or financially able party to deal with responsible well abandonment and site reclamation.

Orphaned oil and gas wells have become a significant fiscal liability for some Canadian provinces, especially those that have long-established hydrocarbon extraction industries. Orphaned wells also leave a troubling legacy of environmental issues, including leakage pathways for fugitive emissions. For example, the Maskwacis Cree Communities, near Leduc, Alberta, are currently dealing with >200 orphaned wells on lands knows as the Bonny Glen Field, through a partnership between Ermineskin Resources Development Ltd., and Imperial Oil. 

One approach to management of orphan wells is to create an industry-supported abandonment fund to relieve taxpayers of the entire burden of abandonment and reclamation.

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Wikipedia Page

Teams also made a contribution to Wikipedia in May 2018