Thought Leadership

Improved Greenhouse Gas Measurement at Oil Sands & Other Sources

by Françoise Robe, Oil and Gas Sector Lead

Energy plant

RWDI recently learned that a project on which we are collaborating has been awarded $5 million through the Methane Challenge, administered by Emission Reduction Alberta (ERA).

Working with several industry and academic partners, we will investigate new sensor and modeling strategies for detecting, monitoring and quantifying methane and carbon dioxide emissions from large area sources, such as tailings ponds and open mine faces in the Alberta oil sands.

The long-term aim is to develop a holistic system of sensors and models. Such a system will permit significantly more accurate quantification of diffuse methane emissions, which will in turn enable more targeted reduction strategies.

  • A $5 million grant to a university-industry partnership recognizes RWDI’s pioneering approach to greenhouse gas modeling emissions. 
  • RWDI will conduct five challenging field campaigns over two years to evaluate new and existing monitoring technologies.

RWDI will have a role in both measurement and modeling. Our staff will collect data during five field campaigns over two years, using both the new technologies being investigated in the project and existing technologies. We will then apply those data to continue improving our inverse dispersion modeling (IDM) approach to quantifying greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We pioneered the application of IDM to oil sands area sources starting in 2015 and are very excited about this opportunity to benchmark new technologies and work with data that are more refined and varied.

There are two primary methane sources in open-mine oil sands extraction: open mine faces, with exposed bitumen at the surface, and tailings ponds, where the waste water from processing operations is collected. In situ monitoring of these sources is a particular challenge for several reasons: They can be quite large (often spanning kilometers), they are not easily accessible, and their GHG emissions vary so much in both space and time. For these reasons, it can be a practical challenge to collect representative data and to ensure field workers’ safety. We’ve developed an IDM strategy for tackling these important GHG sources; this strategy features ambient monitoring at the edge of those sources (rather than in situ), representative of the total emissions (rather than punctual); meteorological and dispersion modelling: and statistical inversion techniques.

We’re especially encouraged that ERA has chosen to fund this project because the award recognizes our pioneering work with IDM for oil sands and the mantra of our multi-partner team: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” This work will provide fundamental data that can inform many future efforts to reduce methane emissions.

The Methane Challenge is an Alberta-based technology research program to reduce methane emissions in the province’s oil and gas industry. Twelve projects, selected from 118 applications, will receive a total of $83 million.

The project RWDI will support is a collaboration among Canadian Natural Resources Limited and the University of Alberta, the University of Guelph, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, RWDI, and various new technology enterprises. The project will receive $5 million from ERA and leverage an additional $6.53 million in existing funding (see project 8 in the award announcement)