I should point out at the outset that I am not a David Schindler. As my in-laws pointed out, I'm not a real scientist; I'm a political scientist. But I've been fairly heavily involved in water policy work within Alberta, so I would like to take a few minutes to establish some contextual factors that you may want to keep in mind as this conversation unfolds.
First of all, for those of you who are on the committee and not from Alberta, there is a very fundamental divide in the province between north and south when it comes to water issues. In the south, where the bulk of the population is and where the oil sands are gone, water quality is not a big issue, but water supply and potential shortages of supply are in fact very big issues.
We have river basins to the south that are essentially tapped out, and we also have interprovincial issues in the south as the water flows out of Alberta into Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The south is a basin consumed by supply issues, whereas the northern part of the province has few people and lots of water, so it's a different environment.
Supply issues in the north tend to be a seasonal issue, not an overall issue, so when we get into late summer there are issues in terms of the withdrawal of water for oil sands. Unlike the south, water quality is a big issue. A lot of focus is around the potential impact of the oil sands on water quality, and there's more of a concern about downstream communities and the effect on downstream communities. In the south, the impact is on the supply of downstream communities, not on the quality of water. You just want to keep in mind that Alberta has two very distinct water communities.
The second point I will make is that the water issues surrounding the oil sands are, in many ways, easier to deal with than the greenhouse gas issues around the oil sands. The intensity of water use has been going down over time. There's been a lot of technological change. There's a lot of recycling that's used in the oil sands development and the increasing use of brackish water. And finally, on the tailings ponds, which we know so well through ads, here again is a use of water that is probably going to be technologically obsolete within the foreseeable future. The water issues surrounding the oil sands are ones in which there's a lot of activity going on and the problems are less intractable than they are when we come to greenhouse gas issues.
The third point, and next to last point, is that public opinion polling in the province and in the country at large suggests that water issues will trump concern over greenhouse gas issues for the Canadian public. We've seen a waning interest in global warming that has not eroded public interest in environmental issues that we can see, touch, and feel. So water remains a pretty important and sensitive issue on the public policy landscape.
The last point I will make is that within Alberta, water policy has been a matter of intensive development for the past half decade now. Alberta put into place the Water for Life strategy, and we're now working on putting in a land use framework strategy that's built around a lot of water concerns. So although you may not want to argue that we've got everything right in the province, this is not a policy backwater by any means, as Alberta and British Colombia probably have the most aggressive policy approach to water.
So when I look at water issues in the province, I don't see a lot of big holes that other governments might want to step into. This is an area of very active policy creation, of very active policy deliberation, which again is not to say that we necessarily get it right, but it's certainly very much on the table.
With that, I'll pass on to my colleague.
Thank you, members of Parliament, fellow panellists, and other guests. Good afternoon. We really thank you a lot for this opportunity to talk about our CCS project here today.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with TransAlta, we are Canada's publicly traded power generator and wholesale marketer of electricity. We have power plants in every province, from British Columbia to New Brunswick, with the exception of Manitoba. We also own and operate power plants in the United States and in Australia. In total, we have 185 plants and 10,000 megawatts of capacity, which makes us about the same size as BC Hydro.
We're celebrating our 100th year this year. We started out as a hydroelectric power producer, moved into thermal generation, and in the last 15 years have developed extensively in renewables. It may surprise you to know that TransAlta is Canada's largest wind developer and that more than 22% of our fleet is from renewable sources.
Our growth strategy is exclusively focused on clean energy, both in renewables such as wind, hydro, and geothermal, and in clean fossil technologies, such as CCS with Project Pioneer, which is what I'm really here to talk to you about today.
Project Pioneer, for those of you who don't know, is a partnership of private industry and government and will be one of the most significant initiatives on CO2 in the next decade in Canada. It's designed to preserve the economic value of our vast natural resources; it will advance Canada’s reputation as a developer of clean energy solutions and it will actually reduce CO2.
Just as an aside, we are really pleased to have the Government of Canada as a partner in this initiative. With five major CCS projects currently in development in Canada, we believe our country is leading the world in developing the G-8 target of 20 CCS projects around the world by 2015.
By 2015, Project Pioneer will be amongst the largest, fully integrated CCS systems in the world. We will build it to retrofit to our Keephills 3 coal plant, and it will use the chilled ammonia process to capture and permanently store a million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.
The first stage of Project Pioneer will be to store the captured CO2 in several deep wells in a geological formation next to Keephills. We will inject the purified CO2 underground more than two kilometres deep through drill sites identified in conjunction with the Wabamun Area CO2 Sequestration Project, or WASP study, headed by Dr. David Keith of the University of Calgary. We expect this stage to last at least two years.
The second stage of Project Pioneer will stop geological sequestration and instead transport the captured CO2 via pipeline to mature oil fields about 70 kilometres away for enhanced oil recovery.
The benefits of the project are both environmental and economic. On the environmental front, I'd really like to stress that a million tonnes of CO2 will be annually sequestered from the coal plant, which is equivalent to removing 160,000 cars from Canada’s roads every year. In addition, the capture will reduce SO2 emissions and particulate matter by about a third of what they are today.
On the economic front, Wright Mansell Research has estimated that over the life of Pioneer, it will increase Alberta’s GDP by $2 billion to $3 billion; increase labour income by about $675 million; efficiently extract an additional 22 million barrels of oil production from existing oil fields in Alberta; increase federal, provincial, and local government revenues by between $259 million and $1.2 billion; and add 8,800 person-years worth of employment.
As I have mentioned, Pioneer’s disposal plan for the captured CO2 will be to inject a million tonnes annually underground, first into permanent geological storage and then into mature oil fields.
As the Integrated CO2 Network has concluded, EOR can be an economic catalyst to advancing CCS projects across Canada, particularly in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
However, over time, the expected amount of CO2 to be captured in Canada will greatly exceed what can be developed for EOR, so eventually some of it will have to be sequestered in geological formations.
Fortunately in Canada, a number of geological formations hold promise for secure, long-term storage of CO2. Direct storage at these locations will be necessary to handle the large volumes of CO2 associated with capture over the longer term. These locations include depleted oil and gas reservoirs, deep and uneconomic coal formations, and deep saline formations. Deep saline formations can be found in various areas of western Canada several kilometres below the land surface and geologically separated from ground water sources, which I think is of interest to the committee today.
Specific injection sites for Project Pioneer will be determined in conjunction with the pre-existing WASP study. This study--of the region in the immediate vicinity of our Keephills plant--recently concluded: storage capacity for CO2 is conservatively estimated to be 250 million and 400 million tonnes; seismic analysis indicates no faulting in the study area; and an estimated 34% of the CO2 dissolves within the first year of storage, while 56% of the CO2 will be dissolved after 50 years.
The CO2 is initially trapped primarily by physical means below capped rock. Over time, there are additional chemical mechanisms to immobilize the CO2 to prevent any potential release. For example, the sequestered CO2 will mineralize with the rock, be trapped in small pores of the permeable rock, and dissolve into water trapped deep within the formation. We will use the study's findings plus additional seismic investigation to locate test wells within underground formations near Keephills. Our plans are to drill several three-kilometre-deep test wells to establish injection capability for the full rate of 3,000 tonnes per day, which turns out to be a million tonnes per year for Pioneer.
I just want to talk for a minute about the safety of underground storage. CCS includes a mixture of both proven and emerging technologies. What is exciting about Project Pioneer is that it fully integrates both those proven and emerging technologies on a large scale. It will be the first large-scale project of its type in the world when it's finished. Our project will include a full range of capture, transportation, and storage of CO2. You all know that CO2 transportation via pipelines for EOR has been under way in Canada and the United States for a decade. You probably are familiar with the Cenovus project in Weyburn, which has been often talked about in this context.
CO2 storage is used in a number of countries and has been extensively studied as to the integrity of the chosen geological formations to ensure that no leakage occurs.
In Canada, the geological formations being considered as likely candidates for long-term CO2 storage have already proven safe for storing other gases and liquids. These same formations have trapped crude oil and natural gas underground for millions of years. The formations consist of layers of permeable rock capped by a thick layer of impermeable rock. While the gases and fluids can pass through or be stored in the pores of the permeable rock, they cannot move up past the impermeable rock. It acts as a cap. As a result, any CO2 injected into the permeable formations remains trapped there.
The Petroleum Technology Research Centre recently conducted a risk assessment process in 2004 to evaluate the long-term result of CO2 injected into the Weyburn reservoir. In a case study, 4,000 parameter combinations were evaluated and the results indicated that after 5,000 years there was a 95% probability that 98.7% to 99.5% of the initial CO2 in place will remain stored in the geosphere for 5,000 years.
Across western Canada there are about 40 sites where acid gas--a combination of hydrogen sulphide and carbon dioxide--is currently being injected into deep underground formations for permanent storage, and this has been going on for decades. Right now, about two million tonnes of acid gas are injected and stored underground every year. This is a perfect analogy for CO2 geological storage.
According to the Alberta Geological Survey, incidents have been rare and minor and have not resulted in leakage of acid gas into groundwater or the atmosphere. As opposed to hydrogen sulphide, it is important to note, carbon dioxide is not toxic, is not hazardous, and is not flammable. This proves a scientific basis and a proven track record for the safe injection of CO2 underground, and this is how Project Pioneer will proceed--safely, or not at all.
I know I'm running out of time here, so I'll just take a minute here to talk about our monitoring, because I think it is quite important to understand.
As for all human activities, there are always risks involved. Project Pioneer will employ a highly competent and experienced team of subsurface geoscientists who will make use of all available data to ensure that the formations recommended for CO2 sequestration have the necessary features to ensure they will serve as safe, long-term containers for CO2 storage. There will be additional safeguards recommended for any ongoing CO2 sequestration, and these will all be managed through a properly designed monitoring, measurement, and verification program.
I've just got a couple of minutes left here. Do you want me to continue, or do you want me to wait--
I have a slide projection I'd like to make.
I'm going to start with our study that was set up to examine the claim of industry and the Alberta government that no pollution from the oil sands industry gets into the Athabasca River. After seeing sights like the one shown here, and this one, and having studied watersheds for 40 years, my guess was that these claims were erroneous.
Also, the last time RAMP was reviewed, the program was found to be totally wanting. We thought it was worth having an independent study. So what we did in this study was to first use GIS to map the McMurray formation, which is the bitumen-laden formation shown in the lightest colour here, and we sampled at every site that you see on the map, several down the length of the Athabasca, slightly above Fort McMurray to Fort Chipewyan, and then on every tributary upstream.
The first thing we did was sample snow. This was the entire winter's accumulation. We sampled it at 31 sites. We did this because there has been no airborne monitoring in the Athabasca area since 1981--at least that's been reported.
So here is a profile of snow. You can see the black layers in it. We filtered the snow, and this array is from Fort McMurray on the left to Fort Chipewyan on the right. Each of the little side branches represents a tributary.
These are the particulates on the filter after filtering 900 millimetres of snow water, indicating how much particulate was in the snow.
This shows the melted snow at impacted sites. It actually had an oil layer on top of the water after it was melted. We found that airborne contaminants were detectable for a 50-kilometre radius around the two upgraders near our site AR6, as shown here.
If you look at the patterns going downstream, AR6 is again the upgrader location. You can see high contamination of polycyclic aromatics, including several known carcinogens, near that centre of activity and also at the bottom of the impacted tributaries.
We saw the same thing for every toxin we looked at: mercury, arsenic, lead, you name it. When we looked at the amount that these were elevated in the snow--both in particulates in the snow and dissolved and in tributaries and in the water of the Athabasca rivers--we found that every one of these toxins was elevated. They're elevated above background even as far down as Lake Athabasca.
Our data agreed with the Environment Canada National Pollutant Release Inventory. I'll just show you three, but probably all would be the same. Mercury emitted from these plants has increased three-fold in seven years, lead has increased four-fold in six years, and arsenic three-fold in six years as well. All of these contaminants are being spewed into the atmosphere, which the companies are reporting to Environment Canada. This is why we are seeing these elevated concentrations in snow and in the river water.
We also found high concentrations of several contaminants--that are known to be high in the tailings ponds--under ice at sites that are just downstream of tailings ponds. This indicates that there is some effect of tailings pond leakage under winter low flow conditions.
So we conclude from our results that their industry is adding substantially to the contaminant burdens of the Athabasca River by both airborne and waterborne pathways. All thirteen elements on the U.S. EPA's priority pollutant list were higher within a 50-kilometre radius of the upgraders on the river. Environment Canada's NPRI emissions data indicate that these same elements are being spewed into the air in increasing amounts.
The oil sands industry is making these reports to Environment Canada, but it's not what they are claiming to the public. This is shown in these various myth buster full-page ads that have been running in newspapers across Canada. Their claims about contaminate release, water use, and reclamation are simply not true.
So our evidence and that from the NPRI indicates that oil sands companies should be charged under the Fisheries Act. Clearly they're discharging deleterious substances into fish-bearing waters. One wonders where the enforcement of this act is.
I think this monitoring program carried out by RAMP is totally incompetent, as the reviewers of the program in late 2004 already concluded. I think a lot of public trust has been lost.
The only agency with the expertise to carry out a decent monitoring program is Environment Canada. I think given the lack of public trust, there should be an oversight panel of scientists not connected with industry and not susceptible to muzzling by government to help regain public confidence. There should be annual public reports that are made widely available. Industry should continue to pay for the program, but it should not be run by industry.
We have restrictions on airborne and waterborne pollutants from power plants. These are comparable, and in many cases increasing to what we see from large power plants. Clearly some additional restrictions are in order. It's time we had some hard goals for reclamation of mines and tailings ponds and watershed protection.
That's all I have. Thank you.
Thank you for inviting me to appear today. I too am no David Schindler, not even a Roger Gibbins. My name is Graham Thomson and I’m a political columnist with the Edmonton Journal
, but today I’m speaking to you perhaps more as the author of a research paper on carbon capture and sequestration that I wrote for the University of Toronto. I was given a journalism fellowship from the Canadian Journalism Foundation for the 2008-09 school year, which led to an invitation from the Program on Water Issues at the Munk Centre for International Studies to write a paper. It's called “Burying Carbon Dioxide in Underground Saline Aquifers: Political Folly or Climate Change Fix?”
The paper was presented at the U of T last September at a daylong symposium on carbon capture. I did not focus on Alberta’s oil sands projects because it would appear the oil sands are not a good candidate for carbon capture and sequestration. Here is an excerpt on CCS and the oil sands from my paper, so I'm quoting myself:
A cautionary tale can be found in Alberta’s oil sands that initially looked to CCS as a way to mitigate the industry’s huge carbon footprint. With CCS, Premier Ed Stelmach was proud and optimistic that he had found a way to green the tar sands and improve his province’s battered environmental image. “Alberta believes CCS can help ensure the economy and the environment both thrive in the 21st century. That is the backbone of Alberta's position–a pragmatic approach that will allow us to continue to make a significant contribution to the Canadian economy while at the same time protecting the environment.”
However, oil sands companies have backed away from CCS, realizing the technology will likely not help the industry reduce CO2 pollution because the oil sands have too many diffuse emission sources. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation obtained internal federal briefing notes that explained that CCS is better suited to large, single-point industrial sources of CO2 such as coal-fired plants. To quote, “Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” the notes say. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oil sands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”
Despite this, the Alberta government insists CCS will somehow help the oil sands in a significant way. The government’s assurance that 140 million tonnes of CO2 will be sequestered each year requires explanation. Even a firm supporter of CCS has his doubts. “I don’t know where they got that 140 number from,” says David Keith from the University of Calgary. “If we have climate change we cannot keep taking oil out of the ground and putting it into the air.”
Thus far, CCS has failed to deliver on its promise to the oil sands, despite the optimism and enthusiasm of politicians and industry leaders. And the Alberta government is learning that CCS projects are more difficult to get off the ground than first thought. Here's an addition. Since my paper was written, the Alberta government has announced letters of intent for four CCS-related projects: The Pioneer project, headed by TransAlta to sequester one million tonnes a year from a coal-fired plant; the Swan Hill Synfuels project to sequester 1.3 million tonnes a year; an Alberta Carbon Trunk Line; and the Quest project, headed by Shell to sequester 1.2 million tonnes a year from the Scotford upgrader. There is no guarantee all these projects will go ahead, and if they do, the target date to start sequestration is 2015.
Looking at the Quest project, the plan is to capture up to 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from the upgrader near Edmonton, compress the carbon dioxide into a fluid, transport it by pipeline to a yet-to-be determined site, and inject it more than two kilometres underground into a saline aquifer, a sponge-shaped rock formation filled with salt water.
On paper, the pilot project is an ideal carbon capture and sequestration model. It will be well funded, moderately scaled, carefully selected, closely monitored, and it will inject the carbon dioxide deep underground into a geological formation unmolested by a drill bit. If you're going to isolate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this, in theory, is how you're supposed to do it.
However, Shell and its project partners reserve the right to use the captured carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery. That means injecting the fluid gas into old oil fields to force out more oil that is then refined and burned, producing more emissions of carbon dioxide. Using CCS to recover more oil arguably makes sense economically, but calling enhanced oil recovery pure “carbon sequestration” in the context of massively reducing global emissions is, environmentally speaking, an exaggeration.
Then there's the issue of trying to store millions of tonnes of highly pressurized carbon dioxide in old oil fields that are punctured by old oil wells. It's called the pincushion effect and it could create leaks of carbon dioxide into groundwater or into the atmosphere. The former could leach elements such as arsenic into the groundwater sources of drinking water. The latter could be a health threat in large enough quantities, but even small amounts over time could undo any climate change good done by sequestration in the first place.
Scientists studying carbon sequestration have high hopes for its safety and effectiveness but cannot, at this point, give us any long-range assurance, especially if we go large scale.
Alberta says it will use carbon sequestration to bury 140 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2050. The federal government wants to bury 600 million tonnes annually by the same year. Worldwide, the plan is to inject billions of tonnes underground each year.
Politicians are making promises for the technology that scientists and the energy companies don't know they can keep.
That's my presentation. Thank you very much.
Oh, at committee? My apologies.
On April 7, I'm going to Weyburn, Saskatchewan, to actually see the carbon capture facility there, and I encourage anybody from the committee who would like to come. I've always found that to see a facility and to see technologies is very enlightening and helpful in making good decisions.
The other thing I want to share with the witnesses is that I've been at a number of international environmental conferences—in Berlin, in Washington, D.C., and in Copenhagen—and in each case, the importance of carbon capture and storage was shared with the delegates. Science is counting on Canada to be a world leader, which we are--and to give credit where it's due, the previous Liberal government endorsed the technology of carbon capture and storage, as does this government, and provided funding for the same.
The science community is sharing that they're hoping that Canada and the United States will be able to commercialize carbon capture and storage and to see it affordable so that for developing countries that burn coal, and likely will be burning coal to create electricity as they develop, that technology is affordable.
Ms. Farrell, you unfortunately ran out of time and the committee didn't want to hear the rest of your presentation. I think it's valuable to hear from you. You wanted to share with us a monitoring program, water safety and use, and technology. So could you continue sharing with us about carbon capture and storage and its importance? Is it a proven technology? I believe so, but perhaps you could continue sharing with us.
First of all, in terms of “is it a proven technology”, there is a project in the U.S. called Mountaineer, which does prove the technology on a smaller scale.
The real purpose of Project Pioneer is to get the project to large scale and ensure all the detail is taken care of so that we can get the cost down as we go forward, so this technology can happen. So it's really not proving whether or not we can sequester CO2; it's trying to get the costs down so that carbon capture and storage, along with coal production, can be economically viable long term.
Monitoring is probably one of the most important pieces of work we'll do here. Through our monitoring program we will be monitoring injection-well pressures, temperatures, rates, CO2 composition. We'll be monitoring to be able to detect the location of the CO2 plume, the integrity of the abandoned wells. We will be able to detect if there is any impact on groundwater quality, which I think is some of what you're really interested in here today, and we'll be able to detect any seepage in the soil. Monitoring will go on through the operational stage of the project and also past the end of the project, so I think that's very important.
In terms of water safety, I know there's been some contention that there's some potential for groundwater to be impacted by CO2 injection. I think it's important to note that these aquifers we'll be injecting CO2 into are well below the depths where groundwater sits. We'll be making sure we can prove conclusively that the CO2 is taken down into the saline aquifers and that it does not affect groundwater. That will be an important part of what we're trying to do.
The previous speaker asked us about water. It's important to note that on the North Saskatchewan River, our approved licence limit for our power plants is 43 million cubic metres. Our power plants today at those locations use 26 million cubic metres, and Project Pioneer will use about 1.6 million cubic metres per year. It uses a relatively small amount of water relative to the coal plants at that site and fits well within the capacity of that water basin.
I think it's important that the committee note that this kind of funding among the provinces, the federal government, and private industry--with this scale of project--will put Canada well ahead of what I think other G-8 countries are doing on the CO2 front. We will take CO2 out of the air and sequester it. There won't be a lot of discussion about CO2. A million fewer tonnes of CO2 will be emitted into the environment after this project is finished. I think that will serve this country well and it will serve industry. As we go forward and look for environmentally and economically cost-effective solutions, I hope this will be on the list of things we can do.
The way I look at the economic benefit is I think people tend to think about energy as what are the lowest-cost energy resources you have in your region that can enable you to deliver low-cost energy but make it environmentally effective. When you think about coal in Alberta, for example, it's a very low-cost resource. We have 300 years of supply that sits just under the prairie. If we can prove up CCS, we can take about 4,000 megawatts of coal plants and extend their lives for 15 or 20 years, and take out the impact of CO2
That gets the people of Alberta a resource that's more in the $80, $90 to $100 a megawatt hour range as compared to wind, which is in the $90 to $100 range. New hydro is now $125 to $145.
Earlier one of your panel members asked about nuclear. Our studies show that nuclear is in the $165 a megawatt hour range.
We try to look at each resource, look at the cost of that resource, and then look at the cost of mitigating the environmental impacts.
My husband is also from Nova Scotia, so I'm familiar with the concept of people coming from Nova Scotia to Alberta. From what I understand, when we look at the Nova Scotia region, you have some wind. We've got wind now in New Brunswick, and I know wind's being developed in Nova Scotia. My understanding is your coal is quite expensive there.
So I think what you'd have to look at is the cost of that coal relative to the cost of the CCS and put those together and compare them to other energy sources you have in the region, which could be wind, small hydro, and some gas-fired facilities. That's what I would look at.
In terms of safety, a tremendous body of work is now being gathered on the kind of work we're doing here in Alberta. You could get in touch with some of the geologists, the engineers who have been working on these projects. They could outline the kind of study that would have to happen to determine just how safe it would be in the various geological formations there.
I think all of that is very doable at this point.
To start with, I'd like to pick up on what Mr. Braid asked of Mr. Gibbins. Tailings ponds are not a technology that is a flavour of the month. They've been around for over 40 years and show no sign of being replaced any time soon.
I think one of the assertions that industry sometimes makes, that they're going to find a technological solution such that they won't need tailings ponds, was well to not go unchallenged. I thank Mr. Braid for that.
Second, Ms. Farrell, I think one of the things that has been tremendous in your presentation is that it has confirmed what many of us have suspected, that CCS really isn't much of a solution to the oil sands emissions challenge. It's very good, as Mr. Thomson has said a number of times, for single, large industrial-type emitters, but I hope this presentation today has on both sides removed from politicians the easy saying that CCS is going to be a solution to development of the oil sands. It's being demonstrated in an ever clearer way that carbon sequestration and storage is not going to be a solution to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
When we were asking about who is an expert on CCS extraction in relation to oil sands, which is what technically we'd like to look at here today, the answer is that there do not seem to be any experts in oil sands and CCS, because it's not really a subject that develops any level of expertise.
I will ask for a response. Is that a fair assessment, that there really isn't anyone who is...?