Rock formations deep under central Alberta could be used to trap up to 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year in a project proposed by Calgary’s Enhance Energy Inc.
If given the green light by the province, the company says the Origins Project would become one of the biggest carbon capture and sequestration projects in the world and its environmental impact would be equivalent to taking every vehicle off Alberta roads.
The project, which would cost $200-$400 million, has been proposed through the Alberta government’s carbon hub selection process. Announced in May, the initiative created a competitive process to govern how carbon sequestration rights are awarded to companies.
A specific location has not been announced yet.
If the project proceeds and all regulatory approvals are lined up operations could begin in 2024.
Besides giving existing industries a way to reduce their carbon emissions, the project could lure new industries looking to reduce their carbon profile to Alberta, says the company.
“We know now that there’s really no credible path to get to net-zero emissions and meet our climate change goals without using carbon capture and sequestration,” said Candice Paton, Enhance Energy director of regulatory affairs and external relations.
Many key industries from petrochemicals to cement and steel would be hard pressed to reduce emissions significantly with existing technology, which makes carbon capture a potential game changer.
“When you combine those types of industries with solutions to actually capture and permanently lock away their CO2 emissions … then you have a real solution to get to very low or net-zero emission operations,” said Paton, the company’s director of regulatory affairs and external relations.
“That’s what we’re trying to do here with this project.”
Enhance Energy is no stranger to central Alberta. In June 2020, the company announced operations had begun at a carbon capture project that pumps 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) into underground reservoirs near Clive.
The $1.2-billion Alberta Carbon Trunk Line system — of which Enhance is a founding partner — captures CO2 at a refinery near Edmonton and transports it through a 240-kilometre pipeline owned by Wolf Midstream to a mature oilfield at Clive.
The CO2 acts like a solvent, reducing the viscosity of the oil, allowing it to be pumped to the surface. The CO2 is then permanently stored underground.
Paton said the Origins Project will use similar technology but the CO2 will be injected into underground saline water-laced rock formations that are devoid of hydrocarbons so there is no enhanced oil recovery.
“In the Origins Project, you’ll simply be injecting the CO2 for permanent storage,” said Paton
Central Alberta’s geology makes it a perfect location for storing carbon.
“We think central Alberta is absolutely the best place in the province, or even in the world, to be doing this because the geology is wonderful,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of experience in this area to do this safely at the scale that we need to and we’ve got the infrastructure.”
Another advantage of the technology is that it can use existing infrastructure. Old wellbores can be re-used as observation wells to monitor operations and the expertise of petroleum industry workers is well suited to carbon sequestration.
“We need folks who know how to drill and how to service wells and how to operate injection into geology. It’s all really important, but we’re just doing it in a different way, in a way that’s helping us to be more sustainable.”
Paton said she knows that climate change and fears we are not doing enough to address it weigh heavy on the minds of many. The kinds of carbon sequestration projects Enhance is championing can make a difference, she believes.
“I know that we have solutions and I know we are doing the work that needs to be done to address our climate change challenges. And if we can do that right here in our own backyard, there’s something really special about this region and it makes me really hopeful about the future.”