The Quirk Creek Gas Plant is a sour gas processing facility located next to the McLean Creek Provincial Recreational Area, 30km west of Millarville Alberta. The facility was commissioned in 1970 by Imperial Oil Ltd. and has been proudly owned and operated by Pengrowth Energy Corp. since mid 2012.
The raw natural gas which is processed at the Quirk Creek Gas Plant contains a toxic compound know as Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S), which must be removed from the gas before it can be sold into the TransCanada pipeline system, and ultimately be used as the fuel for residential heating etc. In order to remove the H2S, the Quirk Creek Gas Plant utilizes a system known as a Sulphur Recovery Unit (SRU) which uses chemical reactions to extract as much Sulphur from the gas as possible, while only releasing minimal amounts of Sulphur to the atmosphere, mostly in the form of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2). The Quirk Creek Gas Plant operates under a license from the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) which requires a minimum of 98.3% of the Sulphur that enters the plant be recovered and the remaining amount released to the atmosphere. The Sulphur is recovered in the form of a molten/liquid product which is sold to the fertilizer industry and shipped out of the plant by truck.
Since acquiring the facility, Pengrowth Energy has sought to reduce its environmental impact in this remarkable and sensitive environment. The three main sources of emissions from the plant are;
- Exhaust from fired equipment (boilers, furnaces, combustion engines etc.)
- Emissions (Tail Gas) from the Sulphur Recovery Unit
- Flaring of natural gas during operational upsets and start-up / shut-down procedures
Through targeted Engineering and diligent operations, Pengrowth has been able to achieve significant reductions in emissions from all three of these sources at the Quirk Creek Gas Plant.
A major success for Pengrowth at the Quirk Creek facility has been the increase in efficiency of its SRU. By investing in upgrades to key components and implementing state-of-the-art computerized control systems, the Sulphur recovery efficiency has been increased to over 99%, thus minimizing the amount of SO2 released to the atmosphere. This is a notable accomplishment, especially given the age and throughput of the Quirk Creek facility.
Although the purpose of the gas plant is to produce clean natural gas, it also consumes a significant amount to power numerous pieces of equipment and operate all of its systems. The combustion of this natural gas is not only expensive, but also results in significant Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Since Pengrowth purchased the facility it has been successful in consistently reducing the plant fuel gas usage. This has been accomplished by reducing the number of redundant pieces of operating equipment and by optimizing the remaining pieces wherever possible.
One of the major users of fuel gas in the facility is the Tail Gas Incinerator, which is easily identified by the large red and white stack that stands 350 feet tall above the foothills. This specific user is the current target of optimizations by the Facility Engineering and Operations team. In part due to the reduction in SO2 emissions mentioned above, Pengrowth has been able to apply to the AER for an adjustment to its operating license which would allow for a reduced operating temperature, and thus even less fuel gas usage and GHG emissions. System modifications and testing are currently ongoing and Pengrowth hopes to be able to report additional reductions in plant GHG emissions in the near future.
Despite the currently challenging economic climate, Pengrowth Energy continues to strive to minimize its environmental impact at Quirk Creek and be a trusted corporate neighbor to Millarville and all of Southern Alberta.
Rob Eagleson P.Eng, Sr Facilities Engineer, Quirk Creek Gas Plant