Aerial view of a multi well pad in the Groundbirch field

As part of Shell Canada’s commitment to responsible operations, a project team is finding ways to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint in the field while working to optimize operations and increase production capacity.

The Team

Jason McGillivray came to Shell with a forest products background and has held roles in both the project management and the health, safety and environment (HSE) disciplines. In his current role as a project delivery and construction specialist with the Groundbirch asset, he focuses on well pad and pipeline project delivery with a diverse team representing disciplines ranging from construction to regulatory. Together, this team works to improve the way Shell develops its natural gas resources.

The Challenge

One opportunity lies in further reducing methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas (GHG) that traps more heat and has a more powerful short-term impact on climate change than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions associated with oil and natural gas production may occur from: combustion, flaring, venting or as unintended fugitive emissions.

Shell is working to detect and lower methane emissions to minimize our impact on the environment and enhance the overall climate benefit of natural gas for power generation and other industrial and commercial uses.

“We have many initiatives already in place to reduce methane emissions,” says McGillivray listing out leak detection and repair, preventative maintenance, energy efficiency measures as well as flare and venting reduction programs. “Some of the valves used in typical industry processes are designed to vent small amounts of methane, and the emissions released from these valves in the Groundbirch field are an opportunity for improvement.”

The Plan

McGillivray and his Groundbirch project team weighed the benefits and decided to move to a new multi well pad design with a zero-bleed philosophy (whereby methane is not “bled” or vented to the atmosphere).

“Our team is lucky to be part of an organization with a strong culture of continuous improvement and we’re always looking to do things better.” says McGillivray. “Even though it goes above and beyond regulatory requirements, we collectively agreed that it is the right thing to do in this situation in terms of our role in providing cleaner energy to Canada and the world.”

The Technology

In 2017 McGillivray and his project team introduced the first Gen 4 Multi-Well Pad (Gen 4 MWP) – a new, and better, well pad designed to include electric valve actuators instead of pneumatic ones to reduce methane emissions from the wellsite. The new design is also expected to increase production capacity by 40% and decrease costs by 15%.

McGillivray explains an actuator is the mechanism that works to open and close a valve. The pneumatic version uses process gas from the well (methane) as a power source and as the actuator cycles; the compressed gas used to do the work is vented to the atmosphere. The electric actuator is driven by electric power, thus eliminating the methane emission source.

The Path Forward

Changing the actuators to reduce methane emissions came at no sacrifice to production. The first new well pad came on stream mid-January in 2018 and ranked number one in the province for top gas rates for initial well production in January according to a report by Alta Corp Capital. “Based on its success, electric actuators will be used on new well pads in Groundbirch going forward, and we’ll share our knowledge with other Shell assets for potential replication,” says McGillivray, who is already looking towards the next challenge.

The project team will follow the Groundbirch GHG asset management plan to drive further methane emissions reduction in 2018 through a trial that uses fresh air from a compressor (like the ones used to fill the air in car tires) instead of methane from the well to run actuators on existing well pads in the Groundbirch field.

“To be a part of positive change is incredibly motivating, with Shell reinforcing the responsible development taking place in Canada’s upstream and our role as an industry leader when it comes to environmental improvement,” says McGillivray.

Celebrating 10 years of operations in 2008, Shell’s Groundbirch asset is located in northeast British Columbia near Fort St. John and consists of four natural gas processing plants and more than 500 producing wells. In managing this asset, Shell adheres to operating principles that focus on safety, engagement with nearby communities, and environmental safeguards, including a commitment to conduct operations in a manner that protects air quality and controls fugitive emissions as reasonably practicable.