Why CCS?

Our lives depend on energy wherever we live. But in order to prosper while tackling climate change, society needs to provide much more energy for a growing global population while finding ways to emit much less CO2. Many leading agencies agree that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will have an important role to play in addressing this challenge.

CCS is the only technology that tackles the absolute level of CO2 stock in the atmosphere. Other technologies improve efficiency and help to slow down the rate of CO2 increase, but do not reduce the total volume of CO2 in the atmosphere.

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report states that without widespread implementation of CCS, the world is unlikely to reach its desired 2 °C scenario. It also states that without CCS the cost of achieving a 2 °C scenario will be around 138% higher. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects CCS could provide around one sixth of the world’s CO2 emissions reductions by 2050.

Shell is helping to advance technology to capture and store CO2 emissions with CCS through facilities like Quest. But wider uptake of CCS is needed.

How CCS Works

Quest carbon capture storage plant
Quest uses a combination of existing technologies and applies them in a new way to inject the CO2 underground.

Watch How Quest CCS Works

The three component technologies of CCS are:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction from process gas streams;
  • pipeline transportation, and;
  • injection of CO2 into a deep geological formation.

Shell’s patented ADIP-X amine-based capture technology[D1] has been a worldwide gas processing industry standard for extracting hydrogen sulphide and CO2 from natural gas for more than 40 years. Fine-tuning the amine process to preferentially recover 98-per-cent-pure CO2 from the upgrader’s hydrogen manufacturing units is the only new aspect of the Quest carbon capture unit.

Capture facilities use an amine solvent to capture the CO2 from the process stream. The CO2 is released from the amine by heating and then dehydrated and compressed. The compression reduces its volume by about 400 times turning it into a very dense fluid. The “liquid” CO2 is then transported by an underground pipeline to between three to eight injection wells located north of the upgrader.

The natural gas industry also has decades of experience in injecting into underground geological formations. Although underground geological formations were first proposed by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1909 as the safest and most secure way to temporarily store large volumes of natural gas, the first commercial gas storage facility was opened in Welland County, Ontario in 1915.

Each of the CCS technologies has been used for decades. Quest combines them in an innovative way to manage CO2 emissions from the Upgrading process.

Storage Safety

Pipeline at CO2 injection well
Pipeline at a CO2 injection well - part of the Quest Carbon Capture and Storage Project near Fort Saskatchewan (northeast of Edmonton), Alberta in June 2015.

Shell has decades of experience in understanding subsurface reservoirs, rock properties and the ways in which gases are transported and stored. Alberta is considered one of the world’s most suitable locations for safe CO2 storage.

The deep Basal Cambrian Sandstone formation underlying large parts of Alberta is considered particularly ideal for CO2 storage because of its more than 2-km depth and multiple overlying layers of impermeable rock formations that act as regional seals.

Several parameters were considered in selecting the Quest storage site, including the presence of deep porous sandstone, well below any fresh water or hydrocarbon sources; multiple natural seals which ensure safe, permanent storage of CO2; and geological stability – meaning no faults or structural complexity, and no legacy wells within several kilometres. For added assurance, we’ve designed our CO2 injection wells with three layers of steel casing, each cemented in place to the surface to further protect shallow groundwater.

Shell has made a competitive advantage of its ability to model subsurface formations and this expertise has been used to ascertain the containment integrity of the underground area selected for storage.

“The Quest storage site is an ideal location for storing CO2, with a great reservoir and multiple layers of thick impermeable seals,” said Quest Storage Manager, Simon O’Brien. “We are extremely confident that the excellent geology combined with the careful engineering and operation of our wells will ensure that large volumes of CO2 can be safely and permanently stored.”

Shell is committed to demonstrating over the life of the Quest project that the CO2 captured and injected remains safely and permanently stored. A comprehensive and sophisticated monitoring system at the Quest storage site will maintain multiple levels of Measurement, Monitoring and Verification (MMV) over the life of our project to confirm that the CO2 remains contained.

Quest received the world’s first certificate of fitness for safe CO2 storage from world-renowned risk management firm Det Norske Veritas (DNV).


Employee at Quest carbon capture unit
A technician works within a portion of the Quest unit at the Scotford Upgrader, near Fort Saskatchewan (northeast of Edmonton), Alberta in June 2015

Measurement, Monitoring and Verification (MMV)

A comprehensive suite of very sophisticated monitoring equipment at the Quest storage site maintains multiple levels of Measurement, Monitoring and Verification (MMV) over the life of the project to confirm that the CO2 remains contained. Shell conducts extensive monitoring underground – in the injection wells, the storage formation, deep monitoring wells and shallow groundwater wells - to provide the highest possible levels of assurance to area residents.

In addition, Shell has established a Community Advisory Panel of local leaders, regulatory agencies and members from the academic community. The panel meets quarterly to review MMV data and through the panel, Shell provides information and updates on the monitoring, measurement and verification program.

Quest underwent a comprehensive third-party expert audit of its storage development plan and is the first project in the world to have received certification of fitness for safe CO2 storage by DNV (Det Norske Veritas) of Norway.

Global Collaboration

For CCS to have an impact on global CO2 emissions, it needs to be supported by governments and taken up widely by industry. Effective government support and robust regulatory frameworks will continue to be critical to accelerating the momentum of CCS implementation worldwide.

Quest is the first commercial application of CCS in the oil sands industry. It is part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project. It is operated by Shell on behalf of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP), a joint venture, whereby assets are held in aggregate, directly and indirectly between Canadian Natural Resources Limited and an affiliate (CNRL) 70%, Chevron Canada Limited (Chevron) 20% and Shell Canada Limited and certain subsidiaries (Shell) 10%. Additionally, Quest was made possible through funding for CCS from the governments of Alberta and Canada (C$745 million and C$120 million). From the outset, any intellectual property or data generated by Quest has been publicly available, in collaboration with the governments of Alberta and Canada, to help bring down future costs of CCS and encourage wider use of the technology around the world.

In September 2016, the Global CCS Institute [D1] held a global CCS classroom event at Quest with CCS experts from around the world to explore lessons from our experience.

Shell and the US Department of Energy are field-testing advanced monitoring technologies alongside the state-of-the-art, comprehensive monitoring program already in place for Quest.

The United Kingdom’s Energy Technologies Institute, the University of Birmingham, the British government and Shell will support an eight-month secondment of a doctoral university student at Quest to focus on carbon capture and CO2 transportation. This delivers on the UK Canada Joint Statement on CCS [D2] issued in 2014.

In addition to Quest, Shell is involved in a slate of leading CCS projects worldwide. Building know-how in carbon capture and storage is one of the immediate actions Shell is taking to address climate change.

Our focus in Canada at the moment is on knowledge sharing through Quest.