￼Alberta’s economy is based on oil; an indisputable statement obvious to any and all but those blissfully ignorant of current affairs or those with their facilities eroded to irrelevance. Oil will be phased out. This statement has caused hour’s long discussions and irreparable rifts in friendships, but it is as apparent as the initial statement.
There is roughly 450,000 oil and gas wells in Alberta. Inactive wells, those that are not economically viable to operate in the current market, range from 83 000 – 155,000 depending on the reporting source. The Alberta Energy Regulator, AER, defines an inactive well as one that “has not reported an operation (production or injection) in the last twelve months.”
Inactive wells and their remediation may pose a hefty financial burden on the taxpayer if current regulatory short comings are not addressed post haste; a price tag of some $8.6 billion as reported by the C.D. Howe institute. The difference between a defunct well that no longer produces any hydrocarbon, and an inactive well, which is not economical at current prices, is not clarified; in fact this differentiation is generally not reported, leaving the data open to manipulation by the reporting party and their motives.
Consider the following. Taking the median for inactive wells at 119 000 and the nominal size of a well site at 4 acres, the area encompassed by inactive wells approximates some 476 000 acres. This is a sizeable chunk of real estate. It is worth noting that in general these sites are connected to the both the electrical grid, and a hydrocarbon gathering system.
A proposal to use unemployed oilfield workers as resource in the cleanup and abandonment of these sites has been put forth by the powers that be. While the initiative is well meaning, perhaps it is a little premature if one considers an alternative focus.
Hydrogen and electricity are saleable commodities. Is it not logical that rather than terminating these sites from existence, their collective land base be utilized in the generation of alternative energies such as solar, hydrogen, or geothermal energy?
In the case of wells near the western edge of the province, geothermal use has been proposed by CanGEA, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association. CanGEA has determined, in a joint study with the Alberta Government, that there are roughly 500 wells with bottom hole temperatures, BHT, greater than 120 ̊C and ideal for electrical generation. A further 7200 wells have a BHT of higher than 90 ̊C which could be utilized for industrial heat processes, and over 53 000 wells have temperatures in excess of 60 ̊C which could be used for direct heat.
Whether it’s generating electricity, producing hydrogen, heating homes or industry, current wellsite real estate and oilfield infrastructure is a huge asset. Assets which could help power the transition from a carbon based civilization to one in which the energy base is less ecologically inimical.
Does our municipal, provincial, national, and industrial leadership, have the foresight and vision to make its so?
Lorne Oja can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org