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How Come Alberta Isn’t Prioritizing An Energy Boom That Won’t Go Bust?

New "Closed-Loop" Geothermal energy would give fresh life to abandoned oil wells and light up Alberta's future.

Energy production has been at the core of Alberta’s identity for decades.

Oil and gas projects have been our bread and butter, but the day always comes when the bread becomes stale, and the butter goes sour.

When everything has been extracted, companies pick up and leave, and our boom goes bust. And Albertans are left with the cleanup.

Statistics from the Alberta Energy Regulator determined that more than 170,000 abandoned or inactive oil and gas wells are in the province. Some researchers have concluded the actual number is much higher.

Either way, that’s a lot of old rusting infrastructure to deal with!

But with the idea of creating new opportunities from old investments, Calgary entrepreneur John Redfern viewed these abandoned wells not as a problem but as part of a solution!

“The oil industry was in depression. The only growth industry was well abandonment… ‘Why don’t we just turn them into geothermal wells? Why don’t we generate geothermal energy?’” said Redfern, president and CEO of Eavor Technologies, to Global News.

To solve this problem, his company established the first ever “closed-loop” geothermal technology.

Photo | Eavor Technologies

Geothermal Radiator

The tech is an ideal way to bring a new purpose to abandoned oil and gas wells across Alberta.

Closed-loop geothermal works a lot like a giant car radiator. It connects kilometres of already drilled areas into a closed loop that circulates fluid to capture the earth’s underground or geothermal heat.

The resulting “Eavorloop” generates enough electricity to power up 20,000 homes, also offering options for direct heating of buildings.

With so many wells already drilled across the province, the initial costs of introducing the geothermal tech would also be cut down significantly.

Unlike traditional open-loop geothermal projects or drilling oil and gas wells, this closed-loop technology requires no fracking, water or aquifer use, produces no brine solids or greenhouse gas emissions and has no earthquake risk.

All the pollution that comes with both traditional open-loop geothermal and oil and gas wells is eliminated!

Not only this, but Alberta is rich in geothermal resources. Accept the political will; we have everything needed to advance a local geothermal industry.

Developing geothermal would put oil patch workers, like geologists, reservoir engineers, and drillers, to work. It would also repurpose much of the drilling equipment we’ve already invested in.

While the idea started with reutilizing abandoned wells, the closed-loop geothermal tech can be implemented almost anywhere.

“It’s just a much more benign system, and it’s something that you can implement across 80 percent of the world instead of five percent of the world like traditional geothermal,” he said.

“You can put it almost anywhere. It’s not like a windmill or solar panel … almost everything’s underground, so you can literally put it in someone’s backyard.”

A test site has been built in a sedimentary oil and gas basin near Rocky Mountain House.

The Alberta government has taken an interest in geothermal generation, and more than 60,000 oil and gas wells have been studied to determine their heat content and geothermal potential.

Renewables Moratorium Killing the Geothermal Revolution?

For all the potential closed-loop geothermal could have in the province, the government’s policies are currently limiting, rather than supporting, the industry’s growth.

Premier Smith recently imposed a seven-month halt on application approvals for new renewable energy projects, which is grinding any new developments, including geothermal, to a halt. The stoppage could affect 118 projects worth up to $33 billion. 

“It’s just another really unfortunate throttling of what could be a growing industry in Alberta.” Sara Hastings-Simon, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary whose work focuses on the energy transition, told the Globe and Mail.

While Smith’s government is taking an extremely cautious approach to renewables, other countries are leaping on board and building the Alberta-developed technology. As a result, they are outpacing us in wind, solar, and geothermal.

The Rocky Mountain House project attracted Germany’s attention right away. Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz was there last week to inaugurate the first-ever commercial geothermal energy project developed by Eavor Technologies.

While in Germany, the Minister said she would discuss with government officials and industry executives how Alberta can incentivize geothermal investment.

However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess that the surprise ban on renewable project approvals isn’t helping that cause.

As Hasting-Simon said, “Investors are not quick to forget when governments play outside the bounds of what I would call normal policy development.”

“If you were trying to design something that would create as much uncertainty as possible for investors, you would do something like what Alberta has done – this secret surprise announcement with no consultation beforehand. Any investor that’s looking in the future says, ‘Well, if that can happen at any time, where does that leave me?’ ”

It is disheartening that an Albertan company can develop this groundbreaking technology – just to be used only by other countries while ignored here at home.

We are left wondering if Alberta can only look in the rearview mirror and long nostalgically for the good old days of oil and gas or if we can step into a new era of utilizing our underground energy resources in a modern and sustainable way.

We have a solution to our abandoned well problem and can move forward with a greener energy solution, but our leaders keep stalling!

Meanwhile, Alberta has reinvested in its famed war room to defend the oil and gas industry while our forests burn, our cities overheat, and renewables are put on hold. Is this the vision we want for our province?

Has the Alberta Advantage become a (Dis)advantage because of the lack of political leadership?

You can check out the video below for a more in-depth look at “close-loop” geothermal tech and how it could be utilized here at home:

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