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Updated May 2022

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The Alberta Energy Regulator's (AER's) mandate has expanded to include new areas of resource development, such as geothermal, helium, and hydrogen. This expansion is part of the Alberta government's economic recovery plan to diversify the economy and accelerate growth in new and emerging sectors. We are working to understand the development and regulation of these resources and map the province's resource potential.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen is an energy carrier and one of the most abundant elements on earth that can be the fuel of the future. Hydrogen is a colourless, odourless, and flammable gas found almost everywhere on earth but only combined with other elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.

Hydrogen applications are diverse, including residential and commercial heating, power generation, energy storage, transportation, and industrial processes (i.e., fertilizers, bitumen upgrading).

Companies in Alberta produce two types of hydrogen known as grey and blue hydrogen:

  • Grey hydrogen is derived from natural gas and fossil fuels, and it produces carbon dioxide that is vented to the atmosphere.
  • Blue hydrogen is produced using the same production method as grey hydrogen, but the carbon dioxide is captured and stored for future use.

Geothermal

Geothermal energy is the heat energy buried deep beneath the earth. It is a renewable energy resource with minimal environmental and carbon footprints. Geothermal can provide baseload power with fewer fluctuations in output than other forms of renewable energy because the heat from the earth's core is always available.

As public policies target opportunities to reduce the carbon footprint, we expect geothermal energy to gain a larger share in energy mix.

Companies produce geothermal energy using two basic methods: open- and closed-loop technology.

  • Open-loop technology relies on hot or warm groundwater as the heat source. Once the heat is extracted, the cooled water is either reinjected back into the geothermal reservoir for reheating or expelled out of the system.
  • Closed-loop technology relies on a working fluid circulated in a closed wellbore that is surrounded by hot subsurface formation. A closed wellbore can be two to seven kilometres or even deeper below the surface. The heated fluid is circulated to the surface, and the heat is extracted. The cooled fluid is recirculated back to the wellbore for reheating.

Helium

Helium is a nontoxic and non-flammable gas formed by the decay of radioactive elements in the earth's crust. Helium has some unique properties, including the lowest boiling point of all the elements, a low density, and among the gases, its thermal conductivity (i.e., ability to conduct heat) is second only to hydrogen.

Helium applications include laboratory uses, welding, leak detection, purging rocket systems, fibre optics, electronics, cryogenics, and in high-pressure breathing operations (e.g., scuba diving).

Helium can be produced as a by-product of natural gas production or directly from dedicated helium wells in selected geological formations.