The farmer’s lament: “Well, there’s always next year.” But what about now?

My fellow Pipeline Online columnist, Brad Wall, spoke to the politics of Canadian energy policy, and I will leave that commentary to him, as being a former politician and a current rancher, he is certainly more capable of sniffing out bullshit than me.

Furthermore, a few weeks ago, another fellow Pipeline Online columnist David Yager published a piece on how Saskatchewan’s resource-based, and hence dirty “Old Economy” will actually help Canada shift to the greener, cleaner, and much anticipated “New Economy.” This should be no surprise to anyone following the Saskatchewan government’s “Growth Plan 2030,” because the seeds of the shift are there.

So here is the Big Question: Is there enough stuff in the ground to keep our service and supply sector at work and also offer new opportunities to our young people, without any of them having to become politicians? I think so!

Let me pull on your coat about this for awhile…

Back in pre-Covid 2019, I read the Growth Plan. It’s a dense, well thought out document, requiring a bit of underlining and sketching to fully comprehend. My partner, Carol, read it too and said, “I can make a map of that!” so here it is – the Saskatchewan Growth Map.

Here are ten take-aways from the Growth Plan map:

Map by Carol Heaslip

As a full-resolution PDF, which you’ll likely need to see all the detail: Growth Plan Map-2020-10-2021_v3

One: The land base for non-hydrocarbon resources, like helium, brines, and potash, is bigger than that for oil and natural gas. True, at this point these are regional exploration plays, where real estate is the boss; however, it does mean it won’t be so unusual to be driving past Melfort, or Macrorie, and seeing a rig in the distance.

Two: It used to be that everywhere between the southeast light oil, southwest medium, and west-central heavy was a big blank, except for operating potash leases. This has changed, and we now see the extent of helium and brines permits expanding into the central Saskatchewan terra incognito because the geological setting of brines and helium extends from the Estevan region to the northwest near Lloydminster.

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Three: Southeast Saskatchewan is revealing itself to be a treasure trove of the commodities that the 21st century “New Economy” needs. Once only the domain of oil and coal, the region can now add the following “New” commodities:

Geothermal: DEEP Earth Energy Production is pathfinding the way toward an entirely new source of electricity for Saskatchewan’s grid by harnessing deep brines that can deliver the heat required to generate electrons.

Lithium: This commodity is becoming a critical component for electrical storage systems, especially for vehicle batteries. Naturally-occurring Devonian brines happen to contain a plentiful resource of this light metal, among other valuable components.

Helium: The southwestern play is beginning to move into the southeast as explorers stake permits over top promising deep structures. From MRIs to space vehicle tank purge gas, helium is one of those irreplaceable commodities that Saskatchewan has in plentiful supply.

Coal-to Liquids (and Hydrogen): The phase-out of burning coal to make electrons means our coal resources must be converted into something else. How about a local source for transport fuel, hydrogen, and carbon fibre?

Carbon Capture and Sequestration: Estevan hosts the SaskPower Boundary Dam Unit 3 Carbon Capture and Storage facility. It reduces SO2 by up to 100 per cent and CO2 by up to 90 per cent, all the while powering 100,000 Saskatchewan homes. Weyburn is home to Whitecap’s Weyburn Unit which utilizes the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. It has already stored some 34 million tonnes of CO2.

“Green” Fertilizer: Global increases in the price of ammonia (fertilizer and fuel grade), urea, and potash means the region is a natural host for production of value-added “green” fertilizer products.

Four: These commodities are intertwined. For example, the permit or lease that conveys rights to explore for, and produce, brines are the same permit and lease that conveys rights to potash.  Two hot commodities for the price of one – not a bad deal. Or, as was demonstrated by the recent cooperation agreement between DEEP and Prairie Lithium, brine materials co-exist quite happily with geothermal energy. I predict that over the next several years co-production of “new” commodities will lead to polygeneration, the principle whereby several value-added products come out of co-produced raw materials.

Five: Almost all the “new” commodities require the same kit as is required for oil and gas exploration and production. True, big draglines may not see a resurgence (even here, one or two may be needed for oil shale mining), but almost everything else needs an oilfield-sized hole, tubulars, piping and processing, to make it flow.

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Six:  None of the “new” commodities are really “new”. Helium has been around since the late 1950s, and it was known for decades that brines from deep wells near Estevan are scalding hot. What has changed is that as the global economy shifts, so, too, does the demand for new and innovative solutions, either to store energy, or power new diagnostic tools and space vehicles. Luckily, the Province never throws anything away, so it is possible to burrow through all the old records and drill core and in so doing, geologize something from nothing.

Seven: Saskatchewan is blessed with a thick sequence of sedimentary rocks that offer numerous excellent reservoirs and seals. The reservoir holds the stuff, and the seal keeps it from escaping. True, bitumen and potash are solids at depth, but they still need confinement if they are to be liquified and pumped to surface. The thick salt beds of the Middle Devonian Prairie Evaporite may offer ample space to construct storage caverns for hydrogen or the more exotic energy technologies that generate electricity from compressed air.

Eight: There may be new, frontier oil discoveries to be made. The truly deep strata, from Middle Devonian down to basement, are poorly explored. For instance, in the southwest, out of the 20,000+ wells drilled to date, only 150 or so go down to basement, and quite a few of these are recently drilled helium exploration wells. When you get out into the hinterland of central Saskatchewan, the subsurface environment is even more unexplored.

Nine:  Ever-evolving technology will continue to unlock currently stranded resources. Two good examples are the oil shales of the northeast and the oil sands of the far northwest. I recently dissected the oil shale play, and I will be doing a post-mortem on the northwest oil sands. But it doesn’t stop there if you incorporate the polygeneration principle – for instance, imagine methane produced from in situ-combusted coal that is then burned in a turbine that turns an electrical generator, with exhaust gases captured and sequestered into a deep saline brine reservoir.

There you have it – my thoughts upon examining the Growth Plan map. I am sure that you will you’re your own conclusions after studying the map, because “Maps tell stories!”

In the end, I am also sure that no rig hand, service supplier, or field worker will complain because the well is helium, or brine, rather than oil.

Oh! I am one insight short – here it is:

Ten:  I leave it to you to pencil in your own “This Year Country” vision! Let’s get to it!

 

Steve Halabura is a professional geologist whose work over the years includes potash, oil, natural gas and helium. He can be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/steve-halabura-a715461b/

 

  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
  • 0031 Lloydminster_Heavy_Oil_Show_2022
    0031 Lloydminster_Heavy_Oil_Show_2022
  • 0027 TED_NA Helium 2021_30
  • 0028 SIMSA_Energy_Forum_2022
  • 0025 Kendalls
  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
  • 0015 Latus Viro PO Ad 01
  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
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  • 0006 JK Junior
  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
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