Ever since ground was broken on the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Project at Estevan, there’s been significant talk about how it would gain international attention for its world-leading application of CCS at a commercial scale.
The implication has been that this would be the first, hopefully, of many such projects around the world.
And while there have been tours aplenty in the intervening years, the Regina-based International CCS Knowledge Centre has just landed one of the biggest fish yet – a two-week visit from three Chinese delegations, one of which is one of China’s major national oil companies.
The International CCS Knowledge Centre was just wrapping up work with the large Chinese delegation March 8. When asked if this was like landing a 25-pound pickerel, Knowledge Centre president and CEO Mike Monea responded it was more like a 30-pounder.
“The bulk was from Sinopec, mid- to upper-management,” Monea said.
Sinopec, one of China’s major national oil companies, brought a delegation of 24 out to Saskatchewan. At the same time, Dr. Jinfeng Ma from the National and Local Joint Engineering Research Centre of Carbon Capture and Storage Technology (China CCUS Centre) brought a contingent of four. This inspired China’s Ministry of Science and Technology to send its own four-person delegation to take in what was going on. This included two people from Ottawa and one from Calgary, a very senior group, Monea added.
“We’ve never seen this before,” he said.
He noted that China has made efforts to clean up its coal-fired power plants, but has not yet addressed carbon dioxide.
But what they were really interested in was the other side of CCS – the usage of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in enhanced oil recovery (EOR).
“They are eager to have success in EOR in China,” Monea said.
And while there have been plenty of politicians who have toured the CCS projects in southeast Saskatchewan, this was a working group with the presence of high-level support.
“It’s a validation and confirmation that Saskatchewan has something no one else has – the complete chain around CCS,” Monea said.
The first week focused on the University of Regina, where they heard about reservoir engineering and capture systems. The Friday of the first week saw the group get a tour of the Weyburn Unit, operated by Whitecap Resources. There, superintendent Darcy Cretin was able to show them how CO2 is used in EOR. “They got to see an actual field operation, and were given and excellent tour by Darcy Cretin,” Monea said. “That really set the stage for the application of CCS.”
The following Monday saw a daylong tour of the facilities around Estevan. This included the Boundary Dam Unit 3 Carbon Capture and Storage facility – the power plant and the capture island. Then they drove two kilometres west to see the Aquistore project and its injector well, where CO2 that does not go to Whitecap ends up being injected. The day was rounded out by a tour of the Carbon Capture Test Facility at the Shand Power Station, which tests various technologies on capturing CO2 from a slipstream of exhaust gas from the smokestack of an operating coal plant.
The next day was spent understanding the subsurface – with a presentation by Erik Nickel at the Petroleum Research Centre in the morning followed by a visit at the Saskatchewan Subsurface Geological Laboratory, or core lab, in Regina, where the delegation was able to see pertinent core up close.
“I think one of the best parts of the two weeks was following the visit of the capture plant with a tour of the core lab,” Monea said.
He noted the Chinese don’t think they have very good reservoirs, but he pointed out that Saskatchewan has been able to make the best of ours. In particular, he said they got to see core from the Bakken that is similar to reservoirs in China.
Further tours included Saskatchewan Research Council facilities. Monea noted that Sinopec could choose to use the SRC’s facilities in the future.
A webinar with the Shell Quest Carbon Capture and Storage Project allowed participants to get a feel for what is happening in the Edmonton area on CO2.
The last day in Regina included a presentation from the provincial government about regulation and policy with regards to CO2.
Monea said there was also interest to learn more about the drilling processes used, particularly in the Weyburn Unit. He noted that Saskatchewan is about two decades ahead of China in EOR. It was in the late 20th century that PanCanadian implemented is CO2-EOR project at Weyburn, and Shell had done initial, and then subsequent work, at Midale.
“They really don’t have the capacity we have in the west to drill and set up an EOR program,” Monea said. He noted some field engineers could possibly be heading to China in the future.
“It’s almost where we were in the 1980s. We went down to Texas to learn about how they used reservoir CO2,” he said. “We didn’t know if EOR worked.”
Sinopec has the size to do almost everything involved in the CO2 chain internally, he noted.
So how does all this benefit Saskatchewan? If other countries start employing CCS on a large scale, it makes the whole process more affordable, including for us.
“Our job is to encourage global deployment of CCS technology as a mitigation to climate change. One of the ways we do that is to promote the use of CO2,” Monea said. If demand is created for it, and more and more plants get built, it becomes more affordable.
To that end, last fall the Knowledge Centre released a paper which illustrated that implantation of a carbon capture unit at the Shand Power Station could be substantially cheaper.
“The cost savings are dramatic,” Monea said of the proposed second-generation CCS at Shand. “What happens if we get 100 plants?”
And this is where the sharing of knowledge benefits all. “When they build a big capture plant, they’ve got to do it right,” he said. China can gain from Saskatchewan’s experience.