We believe that innovation, efficiency and technology are the most effective and decisive methods for minimizing our environmental footprint. As part of our operational strategy, we challenge our teams to identify and implement new ways to enhance our processes. The examples below represent ways in which we drive continuous improvement across the lifecycle of our operations.
Chief Engineers Organization
Our unique Chief Engineers organization exemplifies Ovintiv’s commitment to innovation and teamwork. This small group of highly experienced, proven experts from key parts of our operations creates a multi-basin approach to reducing costs, solving complex problems, developing new products and sharing emerging technology across disciplines. The organization was developed internally to drive continuous improvement through collaboration and the pursuit of innovative ideas. Knowledge sharing is enhanced through technical exchanges and advisors embedded within the operating teams.
In 2020, Ovintiv established an emissions reduction task force within the Chief’s organization chaired by our Chief Engineer. It has been charged with identifying and evaluating operational emissions reduction opportunities among other environmental improvements.
Board Field Tour
In 2021, our executive team and Board members engaged directly with our field team on a tour showcasing new emissions reduction technology in our Permian operations. The Board was able to see first-hand the full spectrum of approaches we have taken to drive our emissions lower and interact at a field level with our employees who are implementing these new processes. Topics included how we design new pad sites for efficiency to eliminate routine venting and flaring, new flaring-reduction technology, leak detection and repair (LDAR) equipment, continuous methane monitoring and the use of wet sand in our completions operations.
Innovation in Action
We have a world-class team with a unique culture of innovation, teamwork and discipline. Here are some examples of our team driving continuous improvement across our operations.
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Pilot: Electrifying our drilling rigs
In our Permian operations, we are testing electrified drilling rigs in place of traditional diesel powered gensets, which will result in ~50% reduction in drilling emissions per well and significantly reduced job-site noise levels. Our pad sites already use electrified power when the wells start producing so we were able to coordinate an earlier delivery of the electrical infrastructure to connect the drilling rig. This effort required cross-team collaboration between electrical engineering, construction, production operations and our drilling team. We also worked closely with our supplier to create diesel redundancies to ensure seamless operations during utility-power upsets. We have successfully drilled 10 wells in 2022 with a plan to drill up to 25 by year-end and are evaluating opportunities to expand this program into 2023.
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Reducing emissions with natural gas frac fleet
As part of our focus on driving efficiency across our business, we have started to integrate a natural gas-powered frac fleet in our Canadian operations in place of the traditional diesel-powered fleet. This innovative technology represents a significant opportunity to drive down emissions on-site with an expected 30% reduction in completions emissions. It also has a much smaller footprint. On a pad that would normally require 18 diesel pumps, we are using only eight natural gas pumps. This decrease in equipment and activity should also result in positive safety outcomes, a top priority in all of our operations.
Reducing frac hits by using less fluid
Infill wells – new wells drilled near legacy or “parent” wells – have become common in shale plays, enabling access to more resource while limiting operational footprint. However, during completion activities, hydraulic fracturing fluids from the new well can affect pre-existing parent wells causing a “frac hit.” This “hit” creates pressure loss in parent wells, leading to lower production and the potential to damage production tubing, casing and even wellheads.
To mitigate frac hits, we changed our completions design to use less fluid in the hydraulic fracturing process. In addition to preserving production, this technique typically uses less water, can mitigate induced seismicity during hydraulic fracturing operations and reduces flaring and associated emissions upon flowback.
Transforming completions with simul-fracs
Simul-frac, an innovative completions technique, is now used extensively across all of our operating areas. The process involves hydraulically fracturing two wells at once. By pumping down two wells, we can do more with the same amount of horsepower, leading to reduced fuel use and wear on equipment. Unlike a zipper frac, where one well is completed with 100 barrels of fluid per minute, simul-fracs use 120 to 140 barrels of fluid per minute between two wells. In the Uinta Basin, simul-fracs have delivered a 300% efficiency gain. With significant energy, emissions and cost efficiencies already achieved, we continue to explore opportunities to further optimize simul-fracs in our operations.
Using wet sand to lower environmental impacts and operating costs
Hydraulic fracturing uses large volumes of specialty sand that keeps rock fractures open so oil and natural gas can flow through the wellbore. Historically, this sand was dried at a mine using heated air before being transported to the wellsite – a process that is emissions, fuel and cost intensive. Our Operations and Supply Chain Management teams have developed an innovative way to use locally sourced wet sand instead and have worked with service providers to implement it in the field.
By using wet sand, we lower the environmental footprint of the mining process. Not only do we avoid the energy-intensive drying process, but there is no need for routing gas or electric lines to the dryer equipment or obtaining regulatory air permits. Storage is also more efficient because wet sand can be stocked in large, low-cost decanting piles. In addition to lowering costs, using wet sand reduces the amount of hazardous airborne dust that can occur with dry sand.
Locally sourcing wet sand has the added benefit of reducing transportation from traditional mines that are typically located long distances from the wellhead.
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Eliminating methane venting with new wellsite design
Ovintiv developed a wellsite design that eliminates methane venting under normal operating conditions. The new design involves a closed system that captures and combusts methane from gas-driven pneumatic controllers and pumps that would otherwise vent to atmosphere. Rigorously field tested in 2020, the non-venting wellsite design has subsequently been deployed at new wellsites in British Columbia and will be rolled out to Alberta in 2022. We have also developed a methane-free vent design on our Permian wellsites, which includes zero-emission pneumatic devices and electrically operated control valves and chemical pumps. Ovintiv developed these robust designs in advance of regulatory compliance requirements taking effect, and we continue to evaluate alternative designs and technologies that could further improve emissions performance at wellsites.
Gaining efficiencies by tracking fired-burner runtime
Natural gas-fired burners are used in the surface facility process to ensure our oil meets sales specifications before it flows into the sales pipe. In 2022, we are making a focused effort to gather operational data on the burners in our Anadarko and Permian operations. In addition to increasing the accuracy of our GHG reporting, this data will enable operational synergies such as optimizing burner fuel usage and increasing production reliability.
Ventless chemical pumps eliminate methane venting
For locations without power, natural gas-powered pneumatic pumps must still be used to ensure that safety-critical and flow assurance chemicals can still be pumped into the flowlines/pipelines. In our Canadian operations, we have taken an innovative approach to implement a self-venting pneumatic pump design that captures the gas vented by the pump. We then re-inject the vented gas into the gas processing stream and ultimately sell it. This is being implemented at scale in 2022 as part of our efforts to continually reduce venting pneumatics.
Finding alternatives for natural gas pneumatics
As of 2022, our new U.S. well-pad facilities will use instrument air skids in place of natural gas-powered pneumatics. We use a fit-for-purpose design that allows for alignment and synergies between asset areas. In addition, in our Canadian operations, we are testing the use of pneumatic instrumentation that would use nitrogen, a non-polluting gas that makes up most of the air we breathe, in place of fuel gas, which would have the potential to eliminate methane venting from pneumatic devices.
Pilot: Capturing and selling tank vapors
To reach sales specifications at our well pad facilities, oil must be stabilized at low pressures (close to atmospheric levels) and is stored in tanks. In the past, it has been difficult to capture the final stage of that pressure drop, so the typical protocol is to burn the vapors in a low-pressure flare. To further minimize our venting / flaring, we have taken on the challenge of capturing those emissions by installing vapor recovery units (VRUs) on new facility storage tanks in the Anadarko and Permian basins. The VRUs capture the emissions and compress them into the sales line, which generates revenue and provides the potential to be cash flow positive very quickly. In addition, this innovative approach will also eliminate the introduction of oxygen, which can be dangerous and increase corrosion in the lines. This technology will result in a 90% reduction in GHG emissions associated with low-pressure flaring per facility. When combined with other emissions reduction pilots, the overall result is a reliable design that reduces the GHG intensity of the facility by approximately 50% (2019 facility vs. 2022 pilot facility).
Automating for efficiency
Across Ovintiv, teams are integrating and automating data and planning tools for greater collaboration, efficiencies and more real-time reporting. Often this integration enhances data integrity and delivers cost savings. For example, our Production Engineering department automated certain processes and improved workflows to allow for real-time optimization in artificial lift, chemical pumps and monitoring. These changes deliver cost savings and enhance on-site safety.
Powering Montney production with hydroelectricity
Hydroelectricity, rather than natural gas, powers the majority of Ovintiv’s natural gas processing in the Montney area of Canada. The Saturn, Sunrise and Tower processing plants are tied into the clean electrical grid in British Columbia and can avoid up to 860,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, comparable to the emissions from 184,000 vehicles per year. Electrification has the added benefit of reducing operational noise compared to non-electric facilities. We have expanded our electric-drive portfolio to include:
- Artificial gas-lift infrastructure, pump jacks and jet pumps
- Water and disposal well facilities
- Process controllers (e.g. liquid-level controllers)
- Chemical and fluid transfer pumps
- Lease automatic custody transfer units
- Vapor recovery units
Partnering for emissions reductions
In 2020, Ovintiv partnered with a third party to go beyond compliance and reduce methane emissions in our Alberta operations in advance of emissions reduction regulations. This program is expected to support the replacement of 340 high-bleed pneumatic controllers with low-bleed devices, reducing associated methane emissions in the range of 22,500 tonnes of CO2e per year.
Unique aspects of this arrangement included:
- Our third-party partner funded the retrofit program and managed implementation, leveraging operational and cost efficiencies of a broader program (over 11,000 devices, industry-wide, to date)
- The associated emissions reductions were registered as a carbon offset project with revenue from offset sales prioritized to pay out the third party’s investment. Additionally,post-pay out revenue is shared
We are now turning our attention to overcoming technological barriers to adopting low- to no-bleed pneumatic pumps via collaboration with technology providers, consortia and peers.
We believe collaboration solves problems, drives innovation and improves outcomes. We participate in trade associations and partner with government and other organizations to investigate challenges that impact our industry and increase scientific knowledge of the attributes and behavior of the rocks and reservoirs where we operate. The results of this research often inform best management practices relating to production efficiencies, the environment and the health and safety of our employees.
The Environmental Partnership
Ovintiv was a founding member of The Environmental Partnership, a group of 90 oil and natural gas companies of all sizes, committed to reducing the industry’s environmental impact. By learning from each other and taking action, we identify emissions reduction solutions that are technically feasible and commercially proven.
Participated in flyovers to identify methane emissions and develop basin-level action plans aimed at reducing emissions. Ovintiv continues to report metrics and best practices for reducing emissions from flaring, pneumatic controllers and fugitives.
Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC)
PTAC serves as a third-party, non-profit facilitator of research and technology development, and manages the industry-sponsored Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund (AUPRF). This fund supports independent peer-reviewed research performed by consultants and scientists (government and academia) to increase knowledge, assist in decision-making and develop solutions to industry ESG matters.
Evaluating emissions reduction technologies via the PTAC Methane Consortia including various electric and instrument air-powered actuation pilots, demonstration of engine improvements to tackle methane slip, and optimization of pneumatic pumps via component retrofits.
BC Oil & Gas Methane Emissions Research Collaborative (MERC)
Created in 2020, MERC is a joint initiative between industry, the British Columbia government and environmental non-government organizations to advance research on methane emissions from oil and natural gas activity. The initiative’s goals include broadening scientific understanding of methane emissions sources, detection and measurement methods and identifying emissions reduction and control technologies that can be implemented by operators.
Implemented a collaborative research plan to improve understanding of fugitive emissions (both site-level emissions and potential impacts on emissions inventories) and LDAR program design, including the use of alternative or emerging technologies.
Initial projects focus on methane venting from storage tanks and compressor seals; an assessment of fugitive emissions management comparing pre- and post-methane regulation enactment data; evaluation and comparison of alternative LDAR programs; and comparison of top-down and bottom-up emissions inventory quantification methodologies.
BC Oil and Gas Research and Innovation Society (BC OGRIS)
BC OGRIS focuses on addressing knowledge gaps to inform environmental, operational and health and safety policy and industry practices related to oil and natural gas exploration and development in British Columbia. BC OGRIS manages industry-sponsored funding for independent peer-reviewed research that seeks to improve industry environmental performance.
Supported MERC fugitive emissions research projects and advancement of First Nations-led restoration projects on legacy petroleum and natural gas sites, and continued support of the multi-year Aboriginal Liaison Program that trains liaisons from Indigenous communities to monitor oil and natural gas-related impacts.
Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT)
In 2021, Ovintiv established an Applied Research Chair in Energy, led by Dr. Paolo Mussone, who heads the Clean Technologies Team and is focused on multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder projects in the emerging circular economy. Mussone will also lead projects in the development and field validation of low-carbon emissions technologies for the remediation of hydrocarbon and salt-impacted sites.
Technology development and validation to transform natural resources and industrial by-products and residual materials into high-value chemicals.