Grand Challenges

In each of the four Grand Challenges, we will draw on our interdisciplinary strengths to create new knowledge that will promote economic growth while demonstrating responsible environmental stewardship.

Unconventional hydrocarbons

Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources

Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources (UHRs) have low hydrocarbon mobility in the reservoir and therefore require advanced, non-conventional petroleum extraction methods (e.g., hydraulic fracturing or thermal recovery methods) to increase fluid mobility in the reservoir to enable flow to the wellbore. Examples include tight (or shale) oil/gas, heavy oil, bitumen and oil sands.

These resources are the priority exploitation targets in North America, with interest increasing globally. Even with advanced technologies, hydrocarbon recovery is typically very low, and the environmental impact is often high. The research programs at the university are designed to improve understanding of resources, develop methods and technologies to increase recovery, and minimize environmental impact.

Hydraulic fracturing

Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing is a process of injecting fluids (mainly water mixed with sand and a small fraction of chemical additives) at high pressure into subsurface rock, in order to create connected fractures to enhance hydrocarbon production. It has been used routinely for over 50 years in the oil and gas industry to accelerate hydrocarbon production and increase recovery.

Now applied with horizontal wells and over large areas, this technology has enabled commercial production of oil and gas from low-permeability rock formations, such as shales, changing the energy landscape in North America. Modern surveillance technology, such as microseismic monitoring, has revealed that hydraulic fractures, particularly in unconventional reservoirs, have complex geometries that are not easily predictable in practice.

While hydraulic fracturing is designed to maximize petroleum production from the target formation, there is public concern that some fractures may penetrate non-target zones and/or generate seismic events (earthquakes). These rare possibilities have raised questions about contamination of shallow aquifers, fugitive emissions, land disturbances, well integrity and safety. The urgency to address the associated challenges will continue to grow as the technology utilization increases.

Toward low carbon energy

Toward Low Carbon Energy

Rapid, transformative changes are needed in the Canadian and global energy systems to deeply cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to mitigate the risk for rapid climate change. Although fossil fuels will continue to be the primary source of energy for the near future, there is a critical need for research to facilitate the transition to the energy systems of the future. Significant technological, societal and political innovations are required to develop and deploy low carbon energy sources, improve efficiencies, and reduce GHG emissions from fossil fuel-based supplies. 

Researchers must develop new energy technologies that are cost-competitive, carbon-neutral and have near-zero environmental impacts. Concurrently, new efficient systems for managing and integrating these technologies and processes need to be developed. For a successful transition to a low carbon energy system, our research must carefully balance a myriad of factors including: meeting energy demand, the incumbent energy sources, an aging energy infrastructure, and the heightened social and environmental concerns.

Cumulative effects

Cumulative Effects of Energy-Related Processes

Cumulative effects are defined as changes in natural, social, economic, and cultural environments caused by past, present and foreseeable future actions. Cumulative effects are often used to describe any outcomes or effects of industrial development that accumulate over time. Assessing, measuring, predicting and monitoring cumulative effects are increasingly required as components of regulatory approvals. It is critical to provide a sound scientific basis to assess and understand the intergenerational impacts of decisions. 

The University of Calgary houses a network of research strengths relevant to the study of the cumulative effects of energy-related processes. Fundamental and applied research is required to enhance environmental sustainability of industrial processes, inform policy on energy production, and assure healthy ecosystems and populations.