“Think tanks” will be tasked with solving an inter-disciplinary problem relevant in energy industry today

Professor David Eaton has earned an international reputation for his scientific leadership in understanding emerging industry practices, like hydraulic fracturing, according to a University of Calgary press release.

His breakthrough findings are guiding more sustainable practices and his expertise will shape a new federally funded training program that he’ll lead, offering students exceptional learning opportunities.

With support from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program, Eaton will join colleagues from across campus — and across the country — to train Canada’s future energy leaders.

Students in the program will gain interdisciplinary knowledge and professional skills needed to navigate a changing energy landscape that leverages technological innovations, such as hydraulic fracturing, as well as socioeconomic imperatives from legal and regulatory considerations to the fulfilment of climate goals.

The program, Responsible Development of Low Permeability Hydrocarbon Resources  (ReDeveLoP), is focused specifically on so-called tight oil or shale gas resources.

Once thought too difficult to develop, these energy resources have vast potential that has been unlocked by technological innovations.

ReDeveLoP is a collaborative training program, including UCalgary research leaders and mentors in science, engineering and economics, and partners from the University of Alberta, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Western University, who will support 30 students in its first year.

“Researchers appreciate that the most interesting and compelling scientific understanding often arises from cross-pollination,” says Lesley Rigg, dean, Faculty of Science.

The approach will be evidence-based and enriched by interaction with key stakeholders from industry, government, and NGOs.

“David Eaton’s exemplary leadership on this innovative national program gives students that opportunity to collaborate, working together to address responsible resource development and manage technologies including hydraulic fracturing, one of the Grand Challenges outlined in the Energy Innovations research strategy,” concluded Rigg.

Geoscience professor David Eaton projects a visualization of microseismic events for his students.

Silos don’t make for fertile ground

The ReDeveLoP training proposal followed on the work Eaton and his team did studying hydraulic fracturing practice, policy and technology.

“One of the things we learned is that to complement disciplinary training that students receive, we need to consider responsible resource development more broadly. I am convinced that the specialized nature of university programs really don’t expose students to enough breadth to prepare trainees for the realm of responsible development,” said Eaton.

ReDeveLoP incorporates economic, environmental, societal, legal and political aspects of responsible resource development.

With a program stretching across several provinces, the ReDeveLoP program will use online resources so students can collaborate between universities, with students contributing shared knowledge through an online wiki-based project.

These “think tanks” will be tasked with solving an inter-disciplinary problem relevant in the energy industry today.

Students will come together for the Annual Innovation Program (AIP), a week-long meeting in Calgary April 30 to May 5, 2018, for what Eaton calls a Dragon’s Den scenario.

During the AIP, the students will present results of their think tanks with expertise that includes all stakeholders.

Students see active operations via field trips, exchange programs 

“We want to spend time visiting active operations,” Eaton says. “We think it’s important for students to see with their own eyes how these industry activities occur, to gain and appreciate practical, health and safety and other considerations.”

There will also be field trips to visit outcrops, to provide students with an appreciation for the complexities of inaccessible subsurface reservoirs.

The group is also running an exchange group, some in-country, and another with Penn State’s Marcellus Centre for Outreach and Research.

“The challenge is to deal with these vast resources unlocked by technological advances that have changed the energy landscape of the world, but to approach that challenge responsibly. ReDeveLoP will produce future leaders who will both drive innovation and serve as ambassadors to help bridge the public discourse gulf around resource development with accessible science-based knowledge.” Eaton concluded.

The award is one of three University of Calgary-led CREATE initiatives to earn this uniquely tailored support, geared to providing students with the opportunity to work with exceptional researchers and their networks in the highly critical areas where Canada is building current and future leadership.