Hidden heat could power oil sands extraction, cut carbon emissions

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Hidden heat could power oil sands extraction, cut carbon emissions

The stuff of volcanoes could allow the oil sands to slash their carbon emissions.

A team of researchers with the University of Alberta are mapping the geothermal landscape in Fort McMurray.

The scientists are exploring the region's capacity for the green energy which they believe could power industry sites, including GHG-heavy extraction methods.

Geophysics Professor , Martyn Unsworth says for enhanced geothermal technology to work in this region mining companies would be required to create new fractures in the rock bed and drill up to five kilometres into the ground.

"It's providing what nature hasn't put there, the heat is always there, but away from volcanoes you don't have fractures and hot water and that's what we're trying to do, and in some cases that sufficient enough to make electricity like an irregular power plant, but in the oil sands we're looking at places you maybe won't get those temperatures but you'll get hot water which can be directly fed into industrial processes."

Unsworth says although Fort McMurray only has average heat hidden beneath the soil, there is a huge demand for green energy in this region.

"Fort McMurray has average temperatures for most of Canada, parts of BC are much hotter but they don't have a need for heat for oil sands processing a large part of what we've bee doing for this project is not just mapping the underground geology but looking at the energy economics , if this could be actually economic , so rather than burning natural gas which is the current practice for making hot water at Fort McMurray, maybe you could replace that process with geothermal.
So far, though, EGS has not proven to be economically viable for the oil sands, mostly because of depressed natural gas prices and Unsworth says for the sector to really thrive it will require hefty government investment up front. The geothermal study will continue for at least another five years in the Fort McMurray region.
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