by Tom Keyser
Gas Liquids Engineering Ltd. First Began Carbon Capture and Injection Back in 1995
In the oilpatch of the 21st century, it is one of those hundred-dollar words you hear more and more frequently. But to Jim Maddocks, P.Eng., “sequestration” is simply a fancy new term for an old trick.
Mr. Maddocks and his business partner, Doug MacKenzie, P.Eng., are the senior decision makers at Calgary-based Gas Liquids Engineering Ltd. Sequestration, or carbon capture and injection, has been a cornerstone of their service package for more than a decade.
Founded in Mr. MacKenzie’s basement in 1987, Gas Liquids Engineering was a two-man operation once Mr. Maddocks climbed aboard in 1988.
Things have changed. Last November the multi-discipline company — which now boasts a payroll in excess of 110 people — played host to more than 200 clients and guests during a 20th anniversary bash at the Calgary Zoo.
Specialists in gas purification and liquids recovery, Gas Liquids Engineering covers just about every base for its clients, including design, procurement, installation and even, once a plant is in operation, optimization. Team members have answered the call from customers (mostly Canada-based) doing business across the Middle East, Europe, South America and the U.S.
Gas Liquids Engineering is probably busier than at any other time in the company’s history. In addition to the company’s regular work, these days the partners are also fielding plenty of calls about subterranean carbon dioxide injection. They can certainly speak with authority, after years of injecting so-called “acid gas,” the CO2 and hydrogen sulphide created during the processing of sour gas.
“Since about 1995, we’ve done a significant amount of work relating to CO2 injection,” says Mr. MacKenzie. “We process the gas, compress it, cool it and inject it down an existing well bore into spent natural gas reservoirs, of which there are an abundance in Alberta,” he adds — stressing that his brief explanation represents a gross simplification.
Big News Story
We're witnessing the transformation of CO2 into a commodity. - Jim Maddocks, P.Eng.
High-profile projects such as a recent decision to transform the depleted Redwater geological reef into a vast CO2 storage bin have ignited fresh interest in the whole field of carbon capture.
Recent media reports note that Arc Resources Ltd. and the Alberta Research Council will team up on the job, eventually using waste CO2 to enhance oil production in the field, thereby creating a viable market for the environmental movement’s Public Enemy Number One.
The stories suggest that using CO2 as a tool for enhanced oil recovery within the reef could coax as much as 180 million barrels of high quality light oil out of Redwater’s nooks and crannies.
“CO2 is a great solvent for enhanced oil recovery. That’s certain,” says Mr. MacKenzie, who became familiar with the process years ago when Gas Liquids Engineering was contracted to supply U.S. energy giant Kinder Morgan with a series of multi-phase expansion and plant optimization studies.
Several plant operators have begun to examine carbon footprint reduction initiatives by using this technology. “This effectively turns a waste product from a disposal problem into a revenue stream,” Mr. Maddocks adds. “We’re witnessing the transformation of CO2 into a commodity.”
When it enters the ground, the carbon dioxide is generally in liquid form. Looking a bit like soda water, the waste is dispatched to empty gas reservoirs or to dissolve in deep-water aquifers awash in subterranean brine.
Recovery and underground storage aren’t cheap, by the way. “They can require a fair amount of capital,” Mr. Maddocks says. “Wet CO2 is highly corrosive and you need well-engineered stainless steel compression equipment to handle it.”
Not the Magic Bullet
If those sound like words of caution, there’s a reason: they are.
While both partners agree that carbon capture represents an encouraging step in the right direction for improved emission control, they warn against regarding it as any kind of panacea.
Mr. MacKenzie cites the example of coal-fired electrical power generation stations. “They’d have to generate as much as 30 per cent more power just to create the horsepower to inject their CO2,” he remarks. “That could double the cost of building the facility. The economics are prohibitive.
“All things considered, I’d say that reducing emissions at the source may be more of a long-term answer than trying to collect them after the fact.”