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World’s biggest CO2 pipeline set to begin final phase

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by Ian Harvey

The world’s largest pipeline of its kind is set to begin its final phase construction near Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. and there’s not a protester in sight.
The Alberta Carbon Trunk Line
The Alberta Carbon Trunk Line

The $1.2 billion Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL) won't carry oil or natural gas over its 240 kilometre underground run. It will transport carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from oil refineries and other industrial emitters to boost oil extraction efficiency, resurrect older "dry" wells with more modern technologies and ultimately safely sequester greenhouse gases underground.

Owner-operator Enhance Energy's chairman Ian MacGregor says the finishing touches on the compressor plants are underway and the construction of the 16- and 12-inch pipeline itself will start soon and finish up next year. The CO2 will initially be compressed into liquid for transit at 2,600 PSI though that will drop to about 1,800 PSI at the terminal end.

Based in Calgary, Enhance Energy Inc. specializes in secondary and tertiary enhanced oil recovery and carbon dioxide capture and storage.

The ACTL will ultimately take 40,000 tonnes of CO2 a day, but initial throughput will be about 5,000 tonnes per day combined from the Agrium fertilizer plant and the North West Redwater Upgrader at Sturgeon in Alberta's industrial heartland about 35 minutes northwest of Edmonton. It will be sent to Clive which is about 90 minutes south of Edmonton.

The Sturgeon upgrader refinery is being built by North West Refining, a 50 per cent owner in the North West Redwater Partnership of which, MacGregor is also president and chairman.

While the ACTL isn't as long as its sibling, the 320 kilometer pipeline connecting Weyburn, Sask. to the lignite-fired Dakota Gasfications Company synfuel site in Beluah N.D. (which opened in 2007) it is larger by capacity.

The Weyburn-Midale Carbon Dioxide Project is at the Weyburn Midale oil fields which date back to the 1950s, as do the Clive fields, which were purchased by Enhance a few years ago.

At the North West Redwater Upgrader, which takes raw bitumen from the oilsands and processes it into a liquid form more easily transported by pipeline, the process involves splitting hydrocarbons into pure hydrogen and pure carbon dioxide.

The hydrogen is incorporated into downstream refining processes while the CO2 is transferred to the ACTL.

The pipeline is a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology which is being used across the energy sector globally. The concept works on the principle that CO2, while a greenhouse gas, has a value and, properly handled, can be put to work. For example, some CO2 emitters sell their CO2 for industrial uses while other technologies, such as CarbonCure, an innovative Maritimes start up, has developed a system which injects CO2 into concrete mixes where it reacts to harden the concrete and is sequestered and stored permanently at the same time.

In the ACTL case, Enhance will use the captured CO2 at its own projects in Clive, says MacGregor.

Wells previously thought tapped out in fact can still contain up to 70 per cent of light oil, more for heavy oil. Enhanced recovery technology is getting at that resource efficiently and economically.

He said he and his partners became intrigued by CO2 capture and storage through his involvement in North West Capital which at one time owned 11 per cent of the Weyburn project.

"We knew it worked," he said and it spurred the launch of Enhance Energy. "We're hoping that as others see the value they will either tap into the pipeline to provide CO2 or use CO2 for enhanced oil extraction."

Injecting CO2 into a rock formation where oil is found, often with other materials to make it flow better, is much more efficient. It can also release trapped oil which other methods cannot get to.

At the same time, the CO2 ends up replacing the oil extracted and is trapped and sequestered underground by the same rock formations and not released into the atmosphere.

Ultimately, once deployed in the reservoirs, the ACTL will capture up to 14.6 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

At the Weyburn and Midale fields, enhanced extraction may release more than 220 million additional barrels of new oil from fields which have already produced more than 500 million barrels

Enhance projects about 1 billion barrels of oil will be extracted from the Clive oil reservoirs — about $15 billion in Alberta royalty payments.

The reward of royalties and the safe sequestration is one of the reasons Alberta has kicked in $495 million in funding while the federal government has provided $63.2 million.

The rest was raised privately, says MacGregor, and while planning started back in 2004 it wasn't that hard to get backers, even though CO2 emissions and carbon taxes weren't front and centre.

"The people here are very familiar with the technology and the industry," he says. "And as we went along there were more and more headlines about CO2. So it was a perfect storm."

Though it was put on hold in the wake of the global financial meltdown of 2008, it's been back on track in the last few years.

The project will create about 2,000 jobs through the construction phase and will require engineers and operator through the operations phase.

"We have secured all the right-of-ways for the pipeline so we're ready to go," MacGregor says. "There were only a few hold outs where we had to reroute. People understand the safety of pipelines out here and the value of what we're doing."

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