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Shell Canada says Quest carbon capture and storage project exceeds expectations

17 November 2017

Shell Canada’s Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project in the Alberta oil sands has sequestered over two million tonnes of carbon dioxide underground. Quest, situated at Shell’s Scotford facility, hit the two million tonne target in July 2017, some 21 months after becoming operational. The company said the target was originally expected to be reached after two years, and the project was exceeding expectations.

Quest project map - Image: Shell
Quest project map - Image: Shell

“This project has just been incredibly exciting because not only are we proving that this technology works, but we are demonstrating that Canadians are at the forefront of carbon capture and technology,” said Shell Canada external relations advisor Conal MacMillan.

The CCS project, which is among just a handful throughout the world, captures CO2 emissions from the Shell upgrader in Scotford, a facility which processes crude bitumen from oil sands into a wide range of synthetic crude oils.

The carbon-capture process starts with an absorber vessel which uses an amine solvent to recover CO2 from flue gases emitted by three hydrogen manufacturing units. Heat is used to strip the CO2 from the amine, which gets reused.

The recovered CO2 is then compressed into a liquid form. A specially constructed pipeline moves it 65 kilometres north into Thorhild County, where it is injected into three storage wells more than two kilometres underground. The liquid gets stored in porous sandstone under layers of shale and salt formations that minimise the risk of CO2 escaping.

The project’s capacity of one-million tonnes per year is equivalent to the annual emissions of around 250,000 cars. Shell is also working to improve the environmental process of the sequestration itself, which emits somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 tonnes of CO2 per million tonnes captured.

“Being the first-ever CCS project associated with oil sands, the intent was to demonstrate this technology to reduce carbon emissions does exist and can be an effective way to reduce emissions,” MacMillan said.

The project is estimated to cost $1.35 billion over a 10-year period, with $120 million from the federal government, $745 million from Alberta and the remainder from Shell (60%) and its Athabasca Oil Sands Project partners Chevron Canada (20%) and Marathon Oil Canada (20%).

In the spring of this year, Shell Canada was awarded the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists (APEGA) Summit Award for environment and sustainability for the Quest project.

"There isn't a metric that hasn't finished very strongly in green," said Zoe Yujnovich, executive vice-president for heavy oil at Shell. "I don't think we can say that about many projects."

The development, and carbon capture operations in general, have been criticised as high-cost, stop-gap measures that rely heavily on government funding. Saskatchewan's government has also faced criticism for the provincial utility SaskPower's $1.5 billion Boundary Dam carbon capture project at a coal-fired power plant.

Given the expense, Alberta’s provincial government says it will honour funding commitments on Quest and another larger project, ACTL, but has no plans to fund any future ones.

The UK has also cut funding to a billion pound carbon capture bidding process last year, though a government-appointed advisory group recently recommended that the government revisit carbon capture to save consumers billions in future costs associated with meeting climate change targets.

But Yujnovich said the technology provides an important bridge as part of a long-term transition towards renewable energy.


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