Finding, fixing costly leaks gets closer to solution

An electrical engineer from Red Deer has moved $1.1 million closer to changing the way the energy sector monitors hydrocarbon leaks.

An electrical engineer from Red Deer has moved $1.1 million closer to changing the way the energy sector monitors hydrocarbon leaks.

John Hull is president and founder of Hifi Engineering Inc., a Calgary-based company that’s developed fibre-optic technology for underground well monitoring.

This week, it received a $1.1-million infusion from Cenovus Energy Inc., through the Cenovus Environmental Opportunity Fund.

Hull, who grew up in Red Deer and is the son of former city councillor and businessman Bill Hull, is using fibre-optic lines as acoustic sensors to locate leaks in wellbores and other equipment. This type of search can otherwise be difficult and time-consuming.

“We wanted to develop a way to accurately find leaks the first time, and we’re excited that Cenovus believes in this technology as much as we do,” said Hull.

“Leaks affect production, emit greenhouse gases and are expensive to repair,” added Judy Fairburn, executive vice-president of environment and strategic planning with Cenovus.

“Hifi’s technology allows us to fix these leaks quickly and cost-effectively.”

Hull has worked in the energy sector for about a dozen years, starting in Red Deer. He was previously involved in downhole monitoring and studied fibre-optics in university. About four years ago he started Hifi.

The company received a boost from Cenovus in 2009, in the form of $1 million for the development of its fibre-optic technology. Since then, Hifi has been actively researching and testing, with dozens of wells fitted with fibre-optic acoustic sensors.

“That kind of got us going,” said Hull of the initial funding.

The latest money should help Hifi deploy its technology. The plan is to license it to service companies, said Hull.

“We’re open for business now.”

In addition to Cenovus, Hifi’s system has been used by the likes of Shell, Husky and Imperial Oil.

Hifi has other technologies it’s developing, with various patents issued or pending.

These are designed for production logging, pipeline monitoring and other applications.

The Cenovus Environmental Opportunity Fund, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cenovus, makes strategic investments in early-stage technologies that could enhance Cenovus’s oil and gas operations. Its support of Hifi has earned it a stake in his company, confirmed Hull.

“They’re an equity partner now.”

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