New endowed chair to seek cleaner energy from unconventional resources

Foundation CMG Endowed Chair in Reservoir Geomechanics part of $15M research program to develop new technologies for energy extraction.


(Edmonton) The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering has joined forces with Foundation CMG to foster discovery in cleaner, more efficient techniques for converting Canada’s unconventional hydrocarbon sources into marketable energy supplies.

The Foundation CMG Endowed Chair in Reservoir Geomechanics is an integral part of a new $15-million research program aimed to develop novel technologies to optimize the economically and environmentally sustainable recovery of unconventional resources in Canada. Rick Chalaturnyk, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was named the inaugural holder of the endowed chair, which will integrate into the Foundation CMG Industrial Research Consortia.

“The Foundation CMG Industrial Research Consortia is a positive mechanism that brings together multiple industrial sponsors and partners to discuss and focus research on what are often challenging issues. The program provides an ideal framework and creates a critical mass for researchers and industrial partners to collaborate,” said Chalaturnyk.

The consortia are supported by a NSERC Collaborative Research and Development grant with industrial and government partners Athabasca Oil Corporation, BP Canada Energy Company, Brion Energy, CMG Reservoir Simulation Foundation, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Cenovus FCCL Ltd., ConocoPhillips Company, Nexen Inc., Shell Canada Ltd., Statoil Canada, Suncor Energy Inc., Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures, and Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions.

Unconventional solutions for sustainable energy

According to the Conference Board of Canada, unconventional production became Canada’s dominant form of energy production in 2009. While global demand for energy rapidly increases, Canadian energy producers are running up against the limitations of current technology to convert Canada’s natural resources to marketable energy supplies while ensuring a cleaner environment. Recent steam and bitumen release events in Alberta have highlighted the challenges associated with sustainably developing these resources. With several major oil and gas companies now creating reservoir geomechanics research groups, the chair program will be a major hub for knowledge sharing and technology development for industry.

“The petroleum industry is faced with many geotechnical challenges, and Rick and his team are world-class researchers in this area,” said Duke Anderson, president and CEO of Foundation CMG. “We provide support to professors, such as Rick, and grad students in areas of computer numerical simulation of oil and gas recovery processes with collaboration and technology transfer with the industry.”

Chalaturnyk leads the Reservoir Geomechanics Research Group [RG]2 at the U of A, a team of 39 graduate student researchers and technical staff investigating the properties and behaviour of unconventional resources including oilsands, shale caprocks, bitumen carbonates and, more recently, shale gas, during the recovery process. To conduct this research, Chalaturnyk also spearheaded the establishment of the $4.3-million CFI/ASRIP Geomechanical Research Experimental Facility (GeoREF), which features a high temperature/pressure testing facility, Western Canada’s only beam centrifuge facility and a state-of-the-art 3D sand printing machine. Over the next five years, the program is expected to train 52 highly qualified personnel in the latest technologies and applications in the reservoir geomechanics field.

“Collaborative partnerships such as this research chair, supported by Foundation CMG, are the most effective approach to developing the most responsible methods of resource development,” said David Lynch, dean of engineering. “This combination of real-world challenges and scientific rigour is required to come up with innovative new technologies and advances for the benefit of not only industry, but also the next generation of engineering professionals who will have the opportunity to work closely with industry partners to find solutions to engineering challenges.”