NEWS FROM THE FIELD
Province invests in geothermal research
Regina Leader-Post - An underground aquifer could one day power hundreds of thousands of Saskatchewan homes — and the province is pitching in to figure out how.
The government announced this week that it’s investing $175,000 in a geothermal energy project near Torquay, southwest of Estevan. The money will help fund a five-megawatt facility that draws steaming hot water from deep underground, pumping it up 3,400 metres to run turbines on the surface.
It’s a small test plant that Kirsten Marcia, P.Geo. hopes will lead to a much bigger project. A geoscientist and CEO of the company running the project — DEEP Earth Energy Production Corporation — she finds it “shocking” that there’s no geothermal energy generation anywhere in Canada.
Wes Jickling of Innovation Saskatchewan confirmed that the project will be the first attempt to generate commercially viable electricity through geothermal power.
Marcia said drilling will begin this summer. SaskPower has already signed a deal to buy the energy, which Marcia thinks will start flowing out in about two and a half years. She said there could then be opportunities to build 10, 20 or even 30 megawatt facilities, which could be repeated across the 100-kilometre-long aquifer.
Ultimately, she suspects the aquifer could yield up to 500 megawatts of power – enough to power 500,000 households.
But there’s a lot of uncertainty over whether the technology can be economically viable. The first facility is meant to demonstrate that it can work. Marcia said the government funding will help them get the $8 million project off the ground.
Marcia is optimistic that the Estevan region is well suited to geothermal technology. The water is hot enough — at about 120 degrees celsius — and the expansive sedimentary rock formations are ideal. The site isn’t far from SaskPower’s carbon sequestration facility.
SaskPower announces 10 MW solar project
Global News - In 2019, just east of Swift Current, the province’s first utility-scale solar plant will be operation. The 80-acre-project in the RM of Coulee is the first of two 10 megawatt (MW) plants that SaskPower plans to have operational before 2021 – part of its foray into solar energy.
“Ten megawatts is relatively small compared to the amount of generation we have in the province,” admitted Doug Opseth, P.Eng., generation asset management director for SaskPower.
It’s just 0.22 per cent of Saskatchewan’s nearly 4,500 MW generating capacity, but the province has set the goal of generating up to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
“Adding this first utility scale solar project will allow us to get an understanding of how it operates on our grid. Certainly as you look towards the future the prices of solar and wind are coming down so I can see us adding lots more solar and wind in the future,” Opseth said.
The Highfield Solar Project will generate enough energy to power 2,000 homes and will cost roughly $15 million according to Saturn Power Inc., the company who was awarded the contract.
“We’re looking at doing a similar type process that will come out next year and then we’re also looking at adding more solar through our customer programs and then through our partnership with the First Nations Power Authority,” Opseth added.
The Highfield Solar plant is expected to last decades as it could be 40 years before the panels need to be replaced.
Boundary Damsurpasses a safety milestone
Estevan Mercury - On May 14, SaskPower celebrated two years without a single lost-time injury at the coal-fired power station near Estevan.
“This reflects a lot of hard work by the 350 men and women working at Boundary Dam,” said SaskPower vice-president of power production Howard Matthews. “It also shows how SaskPower has made safety a core value in recent years.”
“We’ve put our money where our mouth is and we’re achieving real results. Our employees continue to bring power to homes and businesses every day and they have to stay safe to keep you safe at home.”
“We tell farmers to be safe during seeding and to ‘come home safe tonight’ to their families. We also need to do the same for every employee at SaskPower.”
SaskPower continues to emphasize public and employee safety in all things, from recruitment to project planning and outage response. As part of the Canadian Electricity Association, SaskPower also collaborates with other utilities to make sure they share their lessons learned with others and bring new best practice back to Saskatchewan.
SGS celebrates 70th anniversary
JWN - “It all starts with the rocks.” That’s something you’ll often hear from Gary Delaney, P.Geo., chief geologist of Saskatchewan. And he’s had the opportunity to say it a lot this year, with the 70th anniversary of the Saskatchewan Geological Survey (SGS) of which he is the head.
The Saskatchewan Geological Survey was formally established in 1948. Its mandate was to map the northern mineral areas, as well as carry out geological surveys of potential gas and oil areas and other economic minerals of southern Saskatchewan.
Maintaining the province’s geological information, be that cores, technical reports or maps, is one of the survey’s key roles.
Around 1950, Delaney says, officials became interested in archiving the various petroleum drill cores that had been collected. Some were stored up in Saskatoon in the basement of a Saskatchewan Liquor Board store. These were moved to an abandoned chicken processing facility in Regina which became the province’s first core lab.
That building was a precursor to the current Subsurface Geological Laboratory, which was built in 1958. It has been expanded numerous times since then. It was the first such facility in Canada and one of the first in North America.
The facility currently stores core from 22,644 wells. If you lined those cores up end to end, it would stretch 640 kilometres, almost exactly the length of the TransCanada Highway from the Manitoba to Alberta borders. It fills 426,793 boxes.
SGS also maintains reports submitted for mineral claims. To keep mineral claims in good standing, companies must provide technical reports on their exploration programs (confidential for three years). “We literally have millions of pages of these reports. Two years ago we undertook an initiative that scanned that information so somebody coming in that wants to work on a mineral project can go online and find reports and maps from previous industry work.”
“We are the keepers of the provincial geological database,” Delaney said. “You have to look at geological data as infrastructure. You have roads, you have power lines, but we understand the geological architecture of the province. We take that to build 3D models, research papers, maps and so on. We have all that information. We make it freely available. It contributes to the province’s competitiveness.”BACK TO TOP
Nerve-tingling tech at U of S
Regina Leader-Post - A new technique involving 3D printing could help with regenerating damaged nerves, according to University of Saskatchewan researchers. “We know the human body actually has the function for regrowth and self-regeneration, but when the damage is really serious, it may lose the function to regrow,” said Liqun Ning, post-doctoral fellow in the Tissue Engineering Research Group at the U of S and lead author of the research paper, which was published in the journal Biofabrication. “With our method, we can build a tissue scaffold which can be used to regenerate those functions.”
In the current treatment, healthy nerves from one part of the body are grafted to the damaged nerve. In the new method being researched, the 3D printed hydrogel-based scaffolds can be used like a bridge; the scaffold is placed into the damaged part of the body to try to regenerate peripheral nerves.
Although each side of the scaffold is smaller than a centimetre, the researchers were also able to create highly detailed and accurate 3D reconstructions of the scaffolds through the Canadian Light Source at the U of S.
According to Ning, the research is only the initial step for the purpose of nerve regeneration in human beings, but the scaffolds have great potential. Before the technique is implemented in medicine, researchers will have to go through the next steps, which include testing the method on animals and then finally in clinical trials.
BHP remains confident about Jansen
Saskatoon StarPhoenix - Crews have finished sinking the first of two kilometre-deep shafts at a massive potash mine under construction east of Saskatoon, but BHP says a final decision on its multibillion-dollar Jansen project is “not imminent.” The Anglo-Australian miner’s latest expression of prudence comes just over a year after it walked back a proposal that could have seen the mine’s four-million-tonnes-per-year first stage approved last June and producing potash by 2023.
In an interview, BHP vice-president of potash operations, Giles Hellyer, reiterated the company’s commitment to a “cautious approach” to bringing the mine — to which it has already committed US$3.9 billion — into production.
Industry analysts have previously pointed out that work on the shafts and associated infrastructure is expected to continue through 2019, suggesting final approval from the company’s board won’t be required for at least another year.
At the same time, Hellyer said, the company remains confident in the fundamentals of the potash market, which is generally expected to continue expanding as global population growth drives demand for food and fertilizer.
Hellyer emphasized Jansen’s expected low cost of production — around US$100 per tonne — and said, “We don’t tend to respond to current day pricing, for example. We take a long-term view on price.”
Helium industry ballooning in SK
JWN - In the southwest corner of Saskatchewan this summer, Savanna drilling rig 629 was in pursuit of helium, which in addition to filling balloons has a variety of uses including as a coolant for MRI scanners and space vehicles, to provide a protected atmosphere for making fibre optics and as part of barcode scanners at grocery checkouts, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.
North American Helium Inc. was the company responsible for the Saskatchewan well. The drilling was northeast of Consul, just south of Cypress Lake.
Melinda Yurkowski, P.Geo., assistant chief geologist, petroleum geology, with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, has been working on the geology of helium exploration for several years. She told Pipeline News there are 14 helium wells in Saskatchewan.
Historically, Saskatchewan had helium production in the 1960s and 1970s. But prices dropped in the late 1970s and the bottom dropped out of the market. Recently prices and demand for helium began rising again, fuelling interest in Saskatchewan.
Yurkowski’s new report focuses on the eastern part of Saskatchewan, having already looked at the southwest corner. She is hoping to release her results in the fall.
Tech reduces costs, increases recoveries for lithium
Saskatchewan Research Council - Lithium, the lightest metal on earth, has numerous applications, ranging from lubrication grease and glass fabrication to rechargeable batteries that power many handheld tools, mobile electronics and electric vehicles. The demand for lightweight, rechargeable lithium batteries has increased greatly as markets grow for mobile devices, electric vehicles and renewable power storage. The challenge for the mining industry is to keep up with this fast-rising market demand.
Although lithium is found in many minerals and some brines, it’s typically in low concentrations and each source has unique characteristics. This makes extraction expensive and time-consuming, two major challenges that mining companies face in the lithium sector.
Typical sources of lithium are hardrock deposits. It can also be recovered from some brines but this process is costlier and more time-consuming.
The Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) is working with mining companies to develop lithium recovery processes from various sources to produce battery-grade lithium products and also to pilot and test new lithium recovery technologies.
In addition to testing and optimizing mining companies´ own lithium recovery processes, SRC’s mining and minerals team is also developing its own more selective and cost-effective lithium-recovery-from-brine technology, to overcome the challenges of the traditional lithium recovery process.
The successful implementation of this selective recovery technology will significantly reduce the lithium production cost – both capital and operating – and make it easier to recover and produce battery-grade lithium.
Call the plumber: leaky pipes all over SK
CBC Saskatchewan - Saline water used in the process of oil production has leaked from flowlines and pipelines in Saskatchewan more than 120 times since the beginning of 2017, according to the Ministry of Energy and Resources.
In July, Husky Energy discovered a breach in one of its saltwater lines which had leaked an unknown quantity of salt water into the ground.
It happened on a Saskatchewan farm near Turtleford, northwest of Saskatoon.
Aerial photographs show a wedge of dead trees and vegetation where the leak appears to have travelled downhill.
According to the ministry, 121 incidents involving the release of produced water from a flowline or pipeline have been reported since the beginning of last year. Of those, three came from Husky Energy. The leaks varied in size.
The company does not yet know when it started or how deep the salt water went into the ground.
Grant Ferguson, P.Geo., Eng.L., an associate professor of geological engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, said the number of leaks that occur in Western Canada is surprisingly low considering the amount of water that is being transported by the oil industry.
“Oil companies are actually water companies in a way,” he said. “The amount of fluid they move around, some of it is oil but in a lot of cases a lot of that is water.”
While public discussion often focuses on issues like fracking and major pipeline projects, Ferguson believes issues such as salt water, old leaking wells and aging infrastructure could be some of the most serious in the long term.
Collapsed SK caves may hold oil reservoirs
Pipeline News - In early July, the world was enraptured with the plight of 12 Thai soccer players trapped in a cave. But long before then, research geologist Dan Kohlruss, P.Geo., with the Saskatchewan Geological Survey, has been looking at caves for how they may figure into the petroleum systems of west-central Saskatchewan.
Kohlruss has been examining the phenomenon of karsting. Karst features are the result of rocks that were dissolved as a product of rainfall or water getting into fractures or cracks. This can result in vertical or horizontal caves.
“There’s also a collapsed cave that’s a reservoir. That’s cool, in my books,” Kohlruss says. “I was able to map the collapsed cave system,” he said.
His paper is done and now he’s working on showing the trapping model of karst-controlled reservoirs.
“What I’m finding is, where the caves are ending you have oil trapped,” he said.
The cave system Kohlruss is looking at would be in excess of 30 kilometres long.
“I’ve been talking about this to several companies in the area and they’ve been waiting for me to publish the info. It’s going to change, I think, a few of their interpretations
Province boasts ag carbon plan
Lloydminster Booster - The Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment asserts that the province’s agriculture sector is part of the solution to climate change that a federal carbon tax would disrupt.
According to a ministry presentation to the Lloydminster Chamber of Commerce, agriculture plays a big role in emissions reductions.
Under the federal government backstop, farm fuel is exempt from the carbon tax but there would still be taxes on truck and rail transportation that serve farmers and natural gas to make fertilizer and chemicals that farmers buy.
Saskatchewan didn’t sign on to Canada’s Climate Plan this year and wants to rely on its own climate change strategy with agriculture technology leading the way.
Through investments and research in crop varieties at the Crop Development Centre and the Global Institute for Food Security at the University of Saskatchewan, the ministry claims that agriculture is reducing its carbon footprint through technology.
Carbon intensity has been reduced by the increase in yields from genetics, agronomy, fertility and zero-till seeding. The introduction of zero-till seed drilling in 1981 cut about 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions with less need for summerfallow.
Agriculture emissions are about 12.7 million tonnes a year in Saskatchewan. Zero-till drills are manufactured in Saskatchewan and exported around the world where they help to reduce emissions in places like Russia, Kazakhstan, throughout Europe and the United States. Saskatchewan’s beef producers have reduced their greenhouse gas footprint by 15 per cent from 1981 to 2011 through technology and better management practices.
In addition, Saskatchewan companies export enough uranium to offset 350 million tonnes of emissions around the world.
The federal government has said it will impose its carbon pricing plan on any province that does not meet the September 1 deadline for a tax of its own.
Students take up challenge for natural disasters planning
Insurance Bureau of Canada – One thousand of the top high school students in Canada came up with some original ideas to answer a challenge from NASA and Canadian geophysicist astronaut Drew Feustel. The students were participating in SHAD, a prestigious summer science program. In early July, Feustel announced SHAD’s theme for its 2018 summer program via video message from the International Space Station.
“Canadians need to be ready for extreme events,” Feustel said. “This year’s challenge at SHAD is to come up with some kind of solution to help Canadian communities be more resilient in a natural disaster.”
Students heard first-hand accounts from experts involved in extreme events such as floods in New Brunswick and Calgary, hurricanes in Nova Scotia, wildfires in British Columbia among others.
Among the many solutions developed, a group of SHAD students working at the University of Saskatchewan devised a roof mounted, solar powered signalling beacon device to help first responders in municipalities in known flood regions.
SHAD teamed up with a number of experts who served as mentors and judges, including lead theme sponsor, the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
“With extreme weather events on the rise in Canada, we wanted to work closely with the SHAD students to help Canadians find new innovative ways to be more resilient when faced with a natural disaster,” said president and CEO of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Don Forgeron.
Oil sands could acidify area size of Germany
The Canadian Press - The largest and most precise study yet done on acid emissions from Alberta’s oil sands suggests they could eventually damage an area almost the size of Germany.
The study finds that in 2013 more than 330,000 square kilometres in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan absorbed acid deposits high enough to eventually damage life in rivers and lakes.
“This work is a warning,” said Paul Makar, an Environment Canada scientist and lead author on the paper published in the Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. “If emissions continue at 2013 levels, there will be ecosystem damage over a very large area.”
The research involved scientists at Environment Canada as well as their counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan and from Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.
Their work began with a study of 90,000 lakes to determine how different water bodies responded to acids and at what point they would no longer be able to buffer them. That data was used to create a map of carrying capacities across a large swath of the northern Prairie provinces.
The team used the latest datasets and techniques — including satellite imagery — to model how 2013 emissions were likely to affect forests, rivers and lakes. Predictions were checked against measurements in the field and the model was then refined.
The study says if emissions continue at the level studied, tree growth would be stunted. Water plants would suffer from increased toxins. Fish and the bugs they prey on would get sick and reproduce less easily.
Terry Abel of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers acknowledged sulphur has been an issue in the oil sands “as far back as I can remember.” Abel said industry-funded, government-run monitoring programs are in place.
Proposed mine skips environmental assessment
CBC News - A proposed potash mine in south-central Saskatchewan has just cleared a major hurdle on its path to late-2020 production. The province’s Ministry of Environment ruled that Gensource Potash Corp.’s Vanguard One potash development doesn’t need an environmental assessment. The project, located about 150 km northwest of Regina near the village of Eyebrow, will therefore skip most of the steps in a typical approval process.
“It’s a significant occurrence for us, for any project,” said Mike Ferguson, P.Eng., the president and CEO of Saskatoon-based Gensource.
Ferguson credits Vanguard One’s fast track to the project’s relatively small footprint and unique potash extraction method.
“The traditional methods of mining have brought all the mixture of salt and potash up to surface, either by solution mining or physically digging it out,” said Ferguson.
“The key for us is to not bring the salt to surface. So we don’t have a byproduct to store because we don’t create one. We’re using a mining method called selective mining where we leave that salt down below in the ore zone.”
It’s not all-clear for the project, however. Construction permits are still needed, not to mention $280 million in financing at a time when the potash industry is in a downturn.
But Ferguson pointed to the recent signing of an off-take as a positive sign. That agreement is with a buyer who has agreed to buy all of the potash produced at Vanguard One for the first 10 years of the mine’s life.