Technology revolutionizing energy industry: experts

Technological developments in the past decade have had a dramatic impact on the North American energy sector, and made the future difficult to predict. But four energy experts gave it their best shot this week during Synergy Alberta’s annual conference in Red Deer.

Technological developments in the past decade have had a dramatic impact on the North American energy sector, and made the future difficult to predict. But four energy experts gave it their best shot this week during Synergy Alberta’s annual conference in Red Deer.

Susan Carlisle, director of alternative and renewable energy with Alberta Energy; Rick Marsh, senior adviser, reserves and resources, with the Alberta Energy Regulator; Dan Allan, executive vice-president with the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources; and Mark Salkeld, president and CEO of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada, shared their perspectives during a forum on Canada’s energy future.

Allan described how energy companies’ newfound ability to extract oil and gas from tight geological formations like shale is revolutionizing the industry.

“Unconventional now is the dominant new energy source for North America,” he said. “Horizontal wells now account for more than 70 per cent of the wells being drilled in Canada.”

By combining horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, companies can now drill into a tight underground zone and extract oil or gas from it for up to two miles, he said.

Salkeld emphasized how precise such operations have become.

“We could steer that (drill) bit in northeastern B.C. from right here in this room if we had the computer setup, and with a very significant degree of accuracy.”

The result is that previously uneconomical reserves have been transformed into high-producing plays.

Allan noted that just eight years ago, the United States was importing about five billion barrels of oil annually.

“It’s coming down by a billion barrels a year in the last few years,” he said, attributing this mainly to unconventional oil from the Eagle Ford and Bakken shale formations.

“Those two plays, one in Texas and one in North Dakota, have added close to two million barrels a day in U.S. production, and they’re ramping up.”

Marsh echoed Allan’s assessment of the United States’ resurgent oil sector.

“Their oil production is now back up to about 1990 levels.”

Alberta also has promising unconventional resource formations, said Allan, and bitumen from the oilsands is expected to continue to grow in importance.

The problem for Alberta has been that a spike in natural gas production has occurred in the United States — the province’s No. 1 energy customer. Our southern neighbour has been producing about 65 billion cubic feet (BCF) of gas a day the past few years — enough to satisfy its needs — and is believed to have the potential to ramp up to 100 billion cubic feet, said Allan.

This abundance of natural gas has driven prices below the cost of production. Marsh said Alberta was generating close to 14 BCF a day a little more than a decade ago; by 2022 the figure is expected to sink to eight BCF.

“The significant thing that will need to happen in order to boost activity back up again is higher gas prices,” said Salkeld.

And the only way to get higher prices is to tap into overseas markets, he added.

Allan is optimistic this will happen. There are currently 10 projects proposed or underway that would allow for the export of natural gas — such as West Coast liquid natural gas facilities — and just four could consume eight BCF a day.

“We’re going to make this happen, because it’s too important to Western Canada to not,” he said.

Carlisle focused on the outlook for renewable and alternative sources of energy. She said Alberta has been working hard to develop these — from solar and wind energy to biomass energy.

“I think it’s inevitable that the grid will be greener in the future,” she said of the province’s power supply.

“I think within the next five years or so there will be a breakthrough in storage technology that will make storage cheaper, and this will overcome a lot of the problems for wind or solar.”

Alternative transportation fuels, like natural gas and electricity, could grow in popularity, she added. And more people could generate their own electricity, and sell some into the grid.

Synergy Alberta is a non-profit organization that supports community-based groups with a stake in energy development. Its 2013 conference, which started on Monday, wraps up today.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read