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Canadian government leads the way on CCUS

Federal and provincial government measures have supported the deployment of several world-class projects

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Canada continues to advance its role as a leader in carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) with recent announcements of governmental support at the federal and provincial levels for projects adding to a growing portfolio of carbon emission mitigation activities.

CCUS technologies are seen by many as key to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Canada, the federal and provincial governments support the use of CCUS to meet Canada’s international GHG reduction commitments, balancing the importance of energy to the Canadian economy with the need to protect the environment. Like the IEA, Canada sees CCUS as one of the main technologies available to mitigate GHG emissions from extensive fossil fuel use and to assist with the transition to more sustainable energy systems.

The successful development of CCUS technologies requires knowhow and experience, appropriate legal and regulatory systems, favourable geology, and money—lots of money. Canada is particularly well-suited to the development of CCUS technologies. It has seven large sedimentary basins for permanent geological sequestration of captured CO2, a stable legal and regulatory system which has been specifically amended to consider and approve CCUS projects, and significant experience in drilling wells and injecting substances into geological formations for storage or disposal. Canada’s first CO2 enhanced oil recovery (EOR) scheme started in 1984 with CO2 sourced from a petrochemical facility, and in 1990 the world’s first acid gas injection operation was commenced in Alberta.

Canada is also home to a number of world-class CCUS projects already, including:

  • The Weyburn-Midale CO2 EOR Project, which is one of the world’s largest and longest-running as well as being one of the few international CCUS projects. This project captures CO2 from a gasification facility in the US state of North Dakota and transports it through a 320km pipeline into Canada where it is permanently injected into the Weyburn-Midale oilfields in Saskatchewan for EOR purposes.
  • The Boundary Dam Project in Saskatchewan, in which CO2 in flue gases from a coal-fired power plant operated by SaskPower are captured and sold to oil companies for EOR purposes.
  • Shell Canada’s Quest Project in Alberta, which captures and geologically sequesters CO2 that would otherwise be emitted from a bitumen upgrader owned by Shell, Chevron and Canadian Natural Resources in a deep saline aquifer.
  • The Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL), which is the world’s largest capacity (14.6mn t/yr) pipeline for CO₂ from human activity. Operated by Wolf Carbon Solutions, ACTL transports emissions captured from a bitumen refinery and a large fertiliser plant to mature oil fields for EOR operations.

ACTL is the newest major Canadian CCUS project. On 23 October 2020, Jeff Pearson, president of Wolf’s carbon business unit observed, “the ACTL system is now operational and includes one of the largest CO2 pipelines in the world. With significant excess capacity on the system, we are optimistic about the further implementation of CCUS as a way to decarbonise the oil and gas sector and allow Canada to meet its climate goals.”

A number of other CCUS projects are in various stages of development, planning and demonstration. The potential for CCUS in Canada is large, with numerous saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas fields that are proven traps to permanently sequester CO2 and other GHGs. In addition, there is tremendous support at both levels of government for the development of new uses for CO2 in the industrial, agricultural, construction and other sectors.

Alberta action

At the provincial level, Alberta has announced that its Industrial Energy Efficiency and Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage Grant Program has budgeted C$80mn (US$60mn) in funding to help emitters regulated by Alberta’s carbon emissions legislation to reduce their emissions and lower compliance costs through technology and equipment upgrades related to energy efficiency and CCUS.

Canada sees CCUS as one of the main technologies available to mitigate GHG emissions from extensive fossil fuel use

The new Alberta funding opportunity is of interest to oil and gas companies with operations required to reduce emissions under Alberta’s Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Regulation (TIER), which sets emission reduction requirements for industrial facilities using a facility-specific benchmark, including those in the oil and gas, oil sands, pipeline and refining sectors.

Albertan facilities can meet their emission intensity reduction requirements by actually reducing the emission intensity of the products they produce or handle, by retiring emission performance or offset credits that they have earned or acquired from others, or by paying into the Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund. The Fund was created in 2009 under Alberta legislation to finance initiatives that reduce GHG emissions or improve Alberta’s ability to adapt to climate change. To date, the Fund has invested about C$607mn in 183 carbon reduction or mitigation projects.

This new CCUS funding in Alberta will be administered by Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA), a not-for-profit entity delegated the authority to invest compliance payments made by oil and gas companies and other large emitters into the Fund in meeting their TIER compliance obligations. The ERA, created in 2009, has a mandate to accelerate the development and adaption of innovative emission reduction technologies, and has recognised the challenges faced by those seeking to develop and deploy CCUS technologies.

The ERA will grant successful applicants up to 75pc of project costs, to a maximum of C$20mn. Both existing and future projects can qualify for funding provided they are regulated by TIER. In addition, C$5mn in ERA funding is being provided through Accelerating CCS Technology, an international CCUS collaboration led by the Research Council of Norway to target CCUS projects at the stage of commercial scale-up, field testing and piloting, and first-of-kind implementation.

C$607mn – Climate Change and Emissions Management Fund investments in 183 carbon reduction or mitigation projects

Other CCUS funding announced is for two NRG Cosia Carbon XPrize finalists piloting CCUS technologies at the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre. The Centre is a unique facility built at a gas-fired power plant to demonstrate CO2 capture and conversion technologies at semi-commercial rates under industrial conditions. The finalists receiving funding are Carbon Upcycling Technologies, which is exploring the use of captured CO2 for developing carbon nanotubes that are conductive, stronger than steel and lighter than aluminium, and Carbon Corp., which is exploring the reduction of cement in concrete to make it less emission-intensive.

Federal funding

At the federal level, the government of Canada has recently announced an investment of C$100mn through the Strategic Innovation Fund to accelerate the development and adoption of innovative technologies and processes seeking to lower the oil and gas industry’s environmental impacts, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

This funding will be administered by the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN), a consortium of companies, innovators, not-for-profits, government departments and agencies, researchers, academic institutions, and economic development agencies which involves many of the biggest research and development investors in Canada. Developers of CCUS technologies will doubtless be among those vying for part of this funding.

Alan Harvie is a senior partner and KayLynn Litton a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright

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