“We’ve got these old wells that we know are hot and we’re going to fill them with cement and walk away,” says Tim Davies, CEO of the geothermal company Turkana. “It’s just stupid.”
“I own the well, I own the land and I own the oil. But I can’t own the heat,” Davies said. “There’s just no mechanism for that in place.”
“The oil business has drilled 400,000 wells in Alberta alone,” Alison Thompson, president of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association, told DeSmog Canada. “They’ve already found all the hot water the province has. The oil patch has those skills to get the most out of every well.” Thompson added that the workforce has been hamstrung by a lack of forward thinking policies. There is currently no permitting framework for geothermal in Alberta, leaving renewable energy out of play.
Ben Lee, owner of Raven Thermal Systems, says the oil and gas sector’s loss could be the geothermal industry’s gain. “For the first time in more than a decade you’ve got very skilled workers that have exactly the skillset that a successful geothermal project needs,” Lee told DeSmog Canada.
Despite being home to enormous geothermal potential, Canada is the only country on the Pacific Ring of Fire that doesn’t use the resource to produce commercial-scale energy. CanGEA released a report in late 2014 that found geothermal could supply all of the energy needs of British Columbia for much cheaper than the Site C dam, currently under construction.
“You’ve got top-notch geologists, reservoir engineers, drilling and completion engineers, surface engineers and all the associated landmen and everything else that comes along with a successful drilling program,” Lee said, adding that, “They are available, and available on the cheap to some extent right now, because there is so much supply.”
Lee said the regulatory climate in Canada has failed to keep pace with knowledge of Canada’s vast geothermal potential. Currently there is no licensing framework in place for the development of geothermal energy in Alberta.
Craig Dunn, an exploration geologist with Borealis Geothermal, the only company in Canada to have a geothermal exploration permit for B.C., said many of the techniques used to develop oil and gas deposits are directly applicable to geothermal.
Due to the permitting hurdles, Canadian companies are seeking opportunities abroad. Brett Erickson from FlashPoint Resources Management Inc., a Calgary-based drilling and completions firm, said his company has been busy applying its skills in Nicaragua and other countries, such as the U.S., that are open to geothermal development.
“Alberta has some of the best engineers and best mind power when it comes to drilling and power generation as a whole,” Erickson said, but other countries “are ahead of Canada when it comes to green energy. It is the greenest energy out there. It’s a lot more reliable than hydro or wind,with less of a footprint.”