The Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund (AUPRF) has issued a call for research proposals to help identify solutions to some of the environmental issues In Alberta’s Upstream Oil and Gas (UOG) industry. The call is an opportunity for Canadian researchers to help strike a balance between protecting the environment and producing oil from the tar sands.
The upstream oil and gas industry has a long record of initiating and funding studies on practical, cost-effective solutions to environmental issues. Already in 2008, the Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund has funded over $1.2 million in environmental research projects.
AUPRF is now seeking applications for the 2009 funding cycle and has identified four key areas of concern; Air, Soil, Water and Ecological issues. To be approved for funding, projects must provide science-based solutions to current and emerging environmental problems that are critical to the industry in these areas.
Air quality is becoming an increasingly important matter for Canadians both in regards to public health and climate change. Air emissions from the UOG have an impact locally, provincially, nationally and internationally and it is imperative that the industry understands the emissions from processes, and the technically feasible control opportunities.
Currently the Upstream Oil and Gas Industry is involved in many voluntary and regulatory programs to estimate, measure, and report air emissions from facilities across Alberta and Canada. According to the AUPRF, improvement in this area is still required.
Through research AUPRF wishes to develop an improved understanding of the air emissions from oil and gas production (including oil sands) and its contribution to the surrounding ambient air quality.
From this, AUPRF hopes to better understand where air emission reductions are possible and what new equipment standards and control/abatement technologies could be implemented to achieve the reductions. In addition to technological fixes, AUPRF is seeking to identify management systems and operating practices improvements that contribute to effective air emissions reductions.
Site contamination and remediation is an environmental issue gaining increasing attention. The AUPRF hopes achieve a better understanding of the Upstream Oil and Gas industry’s impacts on soil quality in the wake of increasingly stringent regulation. Some of the AUPRF research priorities are:
- Development of sulfate soil quality and remediation guidelines
- Development of risk-based environmental assessment and remediation guidelines for salt releases to muskeg and other wetland settings, and evaluation of effective and appropriate remediation strategies.
- Construction of a Remedial Technologies Decision Matrix.
- Development of practical remedial options for petroleum hydrocarbons, salinity, and metals impacts in wetland environments.
Upstream Oil and Gas activities tend to result in extensive adverse effects to a variety of plant and animal species, as well as ecological processes such as hydrological regimes, and have become a focus of land management to stem their proliferation.
The oil and gas industry is under considerable pressure by the public and by government to reduce its physical footprint on the landscape and to minimize industry-based effects on species, ecosystems and ecosystem components. The challenge facing the industry is to minimize impacts to all levels of biodiversity and ecological processes while continuing to develop oil and gas reserves, and to effectively return a range of landscapes to pre-disturbance conditions.
AUPRF has identified several knowledge gaps to be filled:
- Reclamation effectiveness of old-growth structural characteristics, native prairie and wetlands;
- Response of wildlife species of concern to oil and gas activity;
- Mitigation techniques for conserving rare plants;
- Wildlife responses to above-ground pipelines of varying heights;
- Effectiveness of above-ground pipeline crossing structures for wildlife;
- Effective methods to deter wildlife use of gray water ponds, tailings ponds and other similar features;
- Effectiveness of applying Biodiversity Off-sets on ecological function in ecosystems: testing and assessing under various scenarios; and
Canada’s oil and gas industry is maturing, with more production coming from older oil fields and unconventional sources such as oil sands. These petroleum resources often require water to facilitate production, and today water is primarily used for the recovery of bitumen from oil sands (mining and in situ) and for enhanced recovery from mature conventional oil fields.
There are two issues resulting from the use of water in the Upstream Oil and Gas industry. Current rates of water consumption are unsustainable and it requires approximately 4 litres of water to produce 1 litre of oil. The waste water from oil sand recovery is highly contaminated and too costly to treat in significant quantities.
To help address these water issues, AUPRF wishes to research the following in 2009:
- Beneficial use/treatment of produced water;
- Alternative sources of water and technologies for oilfield injection;
- Beneficial use/treatment of municipal/industrial wastewater;
- Reduce water use in shallow and unconventional gas development;
- Sources and treatment of water used for SAGD;
- Defining areas of and techniques for aquifer protection;
- Turning water waste stream into a resource;
- Use of surface water for drilling conventional and unconventional wells and potential impacts to shallow aquifers;
- Educating of stakeholders on industry’s responsible use of water resources.