With Saskatchewan generating 45 per cent of its power from coal, many people in our province work in this industry. It is a priority for them and our government to harness its energy in an affordable and environmentally friendly way.
To combat carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the burning of coal, more than 1,700 people were involved in a three-year project to design and build the world’s first-ever commercial carbon capture test and storage facility, right here in Estevan.
Invited to tour the SaskPower coal-fired power plant at Boundary Dam by Mike Zeleny, I was interested in learning more about the expertise and knowledge behind the facility’s conception. Zeleny began his career with SaskPower in 1974, spending 40 years in various positions and completing his career as a project manager. Now, in his retirement, he tours individuals like myself and foreign-interest companies around the plant who want to see what exactly carbon capture is all about and how it can make a difference in coal-mining countries around the world.
The facility was completed in 2014 and began pumping carbon dioxide into the ground in October. Through a rigorous process, SaskPower captures CO2 from burning coal then processes and pumps it into a saline formation in the earth, at the bottom of a 3.4 kilometre well, which also happens to be the deepest well in the province. They use a multitude of instrumentation to measure seismic information as well as to track the plume of CO2 underground to ensure it remains safely underground.
Oil companies in southern Saskatchewan also harness some of the CO2 from coal processing, mixing it with oil underground to help increase their revenue. The CO2 helps oil flow better and produces up to 20,000 more barrels a day.
Injecting CO2 into the ground is currently the best answer to reducing carbon emissions. For SaskPower, there are three main components when deciding whether coal is a viable and environmentally friendly power option. First, as it is new technology, they have conducted the majority of their research at the much smaller Shand Carbon Capture Test Facility, also located in Estevan. They also need to ensure they are meeting Canadian environmental regulations in regards to emissions. The plant can capture 1,000,000 tonnes of CO2 every year, comparative to removing 250,000 cars from Saskatchewan’s roads. Third, it is critical that this method of carbon capture is both cost-effective and cost-competitive. As coal is a big part of the economic generator for the southeast corner of the province, it’s important to ensure its longevity.
Leading the way in worldwide research in regards to the use of coal and combating its carbon dioxide emissions, Saskatchewan has proven to be an expert in the industry.
In front of the 3.4km well. The deepest in Saskatchewan.