Saskatchewan CEO Driving DEEP’s Success in Canada’s First Geothermal Power Project

By: Kirsten Marcia & DEEP (c) 2021

This article was provided to us by Deep Earth Energy Production Corp (DEEP) at our request to to provide our readers with insight into the state of the most ambitious geothermal project in Canada

As a global environmental leader, Canada is committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Heading our country’s premier geothermal power project, Saskatoon-based DEEP Earth Energy Production Corp., or “DEEP”, is helping Canada reach this ambitious policy goal. In a recent policy document, entitled A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, the Government of Canada summarizes the essence of this new Canadian energy sector:

“Geothermal energy harnesses heat from the earth’s crust and transforms it into electricity to power homes and businesses year-round.” 

Government of Canada, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy Policy Document, 2021

As a Canadian leader in geothermal energy, DEEP is also helping drive and shape this new renewable energy sector, thereby diversifying Canada’s national energy portfolio, while also creating new private sector energy jobs in Western Canada as well as encouraging durable regional economic development opportunities in rural Saskatchewan. 

At the helm of this highly innovative and inclusive enterprise is DEEP’s founder, Director, President and CEO, Kirsten Marcia, P. Geo. Raised in southeastern Saskatchewan, a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan and a professional geoscientist as well as a seasoned resource entrepreneur, Kirsten has worked in the Western Canadian exploration industry for more than two decades. Prior to starting DEEP, her corporate experience – importantly, at both executive and operational levels – included a broad range of projects: diamonds, gold and base metals, coal, uranium, as well as the oil and gas sector. 

While negotiating a new, scaled-up contract, DEEP already has a power-purchase agreement with SaskPower. As part of Saskatchewan’s environmental commitment, SaskPower is working to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It’s a big effort, requiring new partners; for generations, the bulk of Saskatchewan’s power has come from carbon-based power generation. 

After more than a decade of preliminary work and preparatory engineering, the construction of DEEP’s sustainable power project begins in 2022.  Drawing on Saskatchewan-based, world-class oilfield expertise, DEEP recently drilled the six deepest wells (>3,450 m) into the Canadian side of the Williston Sedimentary Basin, accessing hot (125°C) geothermal brine for power generation and direct heating opportunities. 

Diagram of DEEP geothermal energy production

DEEP also drilled its first horizontal well in October 2020. Globally, this is the first horizontal well to be drilled for the purpose of geothermal power generation. The multi-well “ribcage” geothermal field design is globally distinctive, incorporating a transformative application of modern oil and gas drilling, completions and stimulation design for the first time on a renewable energy project.  

Unlike other sources of renewable power, once this geothermal power plant is operational its energy is “always on,” providing safe, reliable, sustainable baseload power. Generally, geothermal projects have a modest footprint, especially when compared to other renewable sources; DEEP consumes only a fraction of land per MWh produced. 

Ottawa and Regina have core interests that align with DEEP. As part of Saskatchewan’s support for strategic resource development, DEEP faces no regulatory challenges. Innovation Saskatchewan and SaskPower remain keen and key partners. Meanwhile, Natural Resources Canada provides crucial support for this new energy sector. In 2019, Prime Minister Trudeau visited Regina, announcing more than $25 million to support the advancement of this geothermal project. This investment aimed to support about half of a $50 million, 5 MW power facility. At present, DEEP has optimized the design and is preparing for a larger-scale plant: a 20-32 MW facility, producing sufficient power to supply about 32,000 households. Concurrent with this scale-up, the estimated costs have also increased. 

Regarding replication, drilling and testing results indicate that temperature and flow rates from this geothermal resource in southeastern Saskatchewan are sufficient to support multiple geothermal power facilities: the evidence indicates 5 X 32 MW facilities, or about 160 MW.

A geothermal power facility

Momentum is building. DEEP’s feasibility engineering was completed in summer 2021.  Construction of the first power facility will commence mid-2022 with commissioning set for 2024. This first 20-32 MW field will offset approximately 155,000 metric tonnes of CO2/year, equal to removing close to 34,000 cars off the road, annually.  Or, put another way, for every 1 MW of clean energy produced by DEEP per annum, the equivalent of about 1,200 homes are removed from non-renewable energy sources. 

DEEP is working to attract additional investment, building on the $25M in Canadian private equity already raised.

Other new partnerships also pay dividends. Not surprisingly, key geothermal processes require some internal electrical loads; major components, like pumps, require power to deliver the hot brine to the surface. New potential power sources, aimed at mitigating this parasitic load, have been investigated by the Saskatchewan Research Council. Options include brine solution gas cogeneration, solar, and wind, as well as utilizing local, wasted flare gas cogeneration from nearby oil producers.  

From this partnership with SRC, the evidence suggests that a gas cogeneration facility is the most efficient power source. Currently burned as waste during oil production, this flare gas comes from nearby oil producers. Soon this flare gas will power DEEP’s pumps with a CO2 by-product captured and sequestered in DEEP’s wells. DEEP’s innovation reflects and reinforces Canada’s global leadership in domestic flaring reductions, and global efforts to end routine gas flaring, including the World Bank’s Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership. 

The bottom line: flare gas generation will mitigate DEEP’s parasitic loads.  Removing waste flare gas. Capturing it. Converting it to power. And utilizing carbon capture processes to enhance the project. And further reducing emissions by 60,000 mtCO2.  

Workers at a DEEP geothermal site

There are also strategic direct use heating opportunities to fuel regional development. As envisioned, heat will be sold to end-users, discounted to the price of natural gas with no carbon tax and no commodity price risk. Three examples include:  

First, major greenhouse developments that are highly productive and research-intensive, leading to increased value-added, sustainable agriculture, farm profitability and improved food security. Second, as Canada closes offshore open-net salmon farms in British Columbia, there are new opportunities for aquaculture in southern Saskatchewan. Finally, there is capacity for a specialized manufacturing and distribution hub.  

These options provide durable, local employment opportunities, fueling what can be a $1 billion industrial corridor in the southeast quadrant of Saskatchewan. 

Kirsten and DEEP share an ongoing commitment to support Canadians, communities, the environment, and core ESG principles. As part of that, DEEP is partnering with, amongst others, the Saskatchewan First Nations Natural Resource Centre of Excellence and the company is committed to working with Indigenous communities to maximize employment and economic opportunities associated with this leading-edge, renewable energy initiative. 

The work of DEEP remains “a solid team effort, as together we aim to ensure that DEEP remains Canada’s premier geothermal energy company, that the geothermal sector succeeds in diversifying Canada’s energy portfolio and that we foster lasting regional economic development in rural Saskatchewan.”   

Kirsten Marcia, 2021