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Field Research Station plays key role in new international research/education partnership

Don Lawton, CaMI Director, speaks to guests touring the FRS.

Don Lawton, CaMI Director (centre), speaks to guests touring the FRS.

Author: Mark Lowey*

CMC Research Institutes is playing a key role in a new international advanced research and education partnership between the University of Calgary and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Under the partnership, called CARBEOR, Norwegian researchers will be able to test new subsurface geophysical monitoring methods at the Containment and Monitoring Institute (CaMI) field research station.

CaMI, owned and operated by CMC Research Institutes with operational funding from UCalgary through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, is located in Newell Country in southern Alberta.

The CaMI facility also will host a field school in summer of 2018 for a total of 15 to 20 graduate students from UCalgary, Norway and the Netherlands. They’ll do research and training on reservoir engineering, geophysics, and monitoring carbon dioxide injected at the CaMI research station.

“A main objective of the CARBEOR project is to enhance training opportunities and give graduate students an experience in a different environment,” says Don Lawton, director of CaMI, UCalgary’s co-manager of CARBEOR, and professor of geophysics in the Faculty of Science.

The project “has given rise to a lot of interaction with the Norwegians, because their carbon capture and storage activity (CCS) is really advancing,” he says.

For Norway, Lawton says, CARBEOR’s graduate student exchange program “is designed to assist in advancing their highly qualified personnel, not only for the Norwegian energy sector but for other European countries” working on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

On the research side, the CaMI Field Research Station offers Norwegian researchers an opportunity to test new methods they’ve developed for imaging gas as it migrates through the subsurface, with controlled experiments in real-world conditions.

“Every kind of geophysical monitoring hardware that you could think of is out there. This is a remarkably rare thing, to have a fully instrumented field laboratory,” says Steven Bryant, UCalgary’s co-manager of CARBEOR and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Materials Engineering for Unconventional Oil Reservoirs.

The three-year partnership between the Calgary and Norwegian universities is for advanced research and education in the interdisciplinary fields of carbon storage and enhanced oil recovery (EOR). The partnership is focused specifically on:

  • advanced geophysical monitoring methods for hydrocarbon production and storage of carbon dioxide; and
  • advanced use of nano-particles for increased hydrocarbon production with greater efficiency and smaller environmental impact.

The $850,000-partnership is funded equally by UCalgary and NTNU, including direct funding from the Research Council of Norway and in-kind funding from the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program. Support from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund for operations at CaMI will enable this partnership to expand in the future.

CARBEOR’s co-managers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway are Martin Landrø, a professor of applied geophysics, and Ole Torsæter, professor of petroleum engineering.

In both research and teaching, there are strong similarities related to underground storage of CO2 and the use of CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, Landrø says.

“However, there are also differences in research focus between the two universities and countries that are interesting to explore, for teachers as well as students. This unique type of cooperation is an excellent opportunity to strengthen research and education for both universities.”

CaMI offers Norway “unique” research opportunities

“Norway is probably the most advanced country in the world when it comes to implementing carbon mitigation through carbon capture and storage,” Lawton notes.

Norway’s CCS state enterprise Gassnova SF has assigned Statoil to evaluate a proposed new CCS project that involves capturing CO2 at three industrial facilities around the city of Oslo. The CO2 then would be transported by ship to an onshore receiving facility in northwest Norway. From that facility, the CO2 will be sent via undersea pipelines for permanent geological storage, or sequestration, in rock formations near to the Troll field on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

The Norwegian parliament is scheduled to make a decision in 2019 whether to proceed with the project.

“It’s a very ambitious project, looking at the entire range from capture through storage,” Lawton says.

For Norway, the CaMI Field Research Station “is unique” in being a realistic field with an overburden geology that is similar to what Norway has in its North Sea oil region, according to a description of the partnership. There are some CO2-CCS field laboratories in Norway, such as Svelvik and Longyearbyen, and CaMI serves as “a nice complementary site for innovative research.”

On the EOR side, “there is no appropriate pilot site [in Norway] for enhanced oil recovery process, and access to the present field laboratory in Canada will give unique research and educational possibilities within EOR.” The CaMI research facility could potentially lead to better integration between geophysical research that’s needed toward establishing a commercial offshore EOR project in Norway.

The kind of measurement, monitoring and verification program being implemented at CaMI also is crucial to ensure safe, permanent geological storage of CO2, to keep the greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming and climate change.
Under CARBEOR, CaMI will serve as “common research ground” for detailed research tasks that could include:

  • experiments to determine how early potential CO2 leaks could be detected by seismic methods, focused particularly on changes that might occur above the reservoir or in the CO2 storage volume;
  • testing various advanced seismic monitoring methods and technologies;
  • using the results of those tests as guidelines for interpreting time-lapse seismic data acquired at field scale in the North Sea; and
  • using the results to suggest new ways to conduct seismic and geophysical experiments at field scale, both for CCS and EOR purposes.

“CCS is one of the few technologies that we have at the moment that can work at scale that effectively give us negative carbon emissions,” says Bryant, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering in the Schulich School of Engineering.

If done right, CCS also enables the continued production of hydrocarbons “that we need and will continue to need for several decades as we build out other energy sources, notably renewables,” he says.

Bryant sees CCS and EOR as complementary, because continued production of hydrocarbons is needed to have the economic resources to develop low-carbon technologies, while mitigating the environmental impact of producing and using hydrocarbons.

More environmentally friendly oil extraction

Graduate student Carter Dzuiba, is researching nanocellulose technology in Steven Bryant’s lab to improve enhanced oil recovery and make it more environmentally friendly. Dzuiba’s research is part of a new partnership between the University of Calgary and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for advanced research and education on carbon storage and enhanced oil recovery.

University of Calgary graduate student Carter Dzuiba is part of the CARBEOR project. Photo: Riley Brandt, University of Calgary.

Norway is keenly interested in EOR research because many of its large oil fields are on a steep decline. NTNU is advanced in the application of nanoparticles to help extract residual oil within pores of sedimentary rocks.

UCalgary is investigating the use of nano-sized (about 10,000 times smaller than a strand of human hair) nanocellulose – a forest industry product – as a potential material for EOR and as a drilling mud additive for creating a ‘plug,’ called a filter cake, to prevent drilling fluid losses and ensure optimal oil recovery.

Under the CARBEOR partnership, recent UCalgary graduate Carter Dziuba conducted energy research for three months this summer at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, after completing his Master’s degree in chemical and petroleum engineering.

He worked with Reidun Aadland, a PhD student at NTNU who has twice come to the University of Calgary, where she collaborated with Dziuba on experiments investigating nanocellulose for EOR.

“The major benefit of nanocellulose is that it could potentially be an environmentally friendly alternative to some of the current chemicals used in petroleum extraction,” Dziuba says. “It’s essentially little bits of wood that poses minimal environmental impact.”

As part of CARBEOR, Dziuba participated in June this year with 14 other students from NTNU, UCalgary and the Netherlands, along and five instructors, in a geologic field course in the Ainsa area in the Pyrenees mountains in Spain.

The course, which coupled field observations and logging exercises with regular lectures and discussion sessions in the afternoons and evenings, was to increase students’ understanding of underground storage of CO2 and enhanced oil recovery by CO2 injection.

CARBEOR “promotes creativity of ideas and experience with a wider range of research applications, which better equips graduates to tackle the modern challenges that industry is facing,” Dziuba says.

*Mark Lowey is a Calgary-based journalist and managing editor of EnviroLine (http://www.envirolinenews.ca)