The Energy City

Estevan, Saskatchewan

U.S. Geological Survey estimates that Baken oilfield may contain as many as 4.3 billion barrels of oil, much of which was unreachable until now, as new technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing make extracting crude from between layers of shale rock more feasible. The resulting oil boom, combined with a number of groundbreaking energy projects, is putting Estevan on the map. Opportunities are everywhere, Mayor Roy Ludwig explains, and the city is growing at an astounding rate.

The oil industry is a major part of the community’s economy, and the city boasts more than 200 businesses directly related to this important sector. Nearby coal mines are also an important resource and source of employment. Most significantly, locally mined coal is used to fuel Estevan’s two enormous power plants, which are responsible for generating almost half of the province’s base load power – and for providing employment for hundreds of residents. The area also boasts a very strong agricultural sector in addition to its energy related industries. “We’ve got a great farming community,” Mayor Ludwig remarks.

Estevan has recently earned a place on the world stage as the site of an innovative and groundbreaking clean coal project. The $1.23 billion Boundary Dam Integrated Carbon Capture and Storage Demonstration Project will rebuild Unit#3 within one of the city’s coal-fired power plants to include a fully integrated carbon capture and storage (CCS) system. Never before has a commercial-scale power plant been equipped with a full CCS system. “It is the first of its kind in the world,” Mayor Ludwig reports. Headed up by SaskPower, this exciting initiative will capture an astounding 95 percent of escaping carbon dioxide, reducing these harmful emissions by a whopping one million tonnes a year.

Captured carbon dioxide will be transferred through a pipeline and sequestered deep underground in the Petroleum Technology Research Centre’s (PTRC) Aquistore primary well, located near Estevan. This $26.5 million research project is the first commercial-scale deep saline injection project on the planet. The project’s well is not only significant for its part in a leading edge clean energy venture, but also for its impressive depth. The well stretches a mind boggling 3,396 metres into the earth, making it the deepest well ever dug in Saskatchewan. Much of the captured carbon dioxide will eventually be sold to resource operations that will use the gas to enhance oil recovery practices and extend the production lives of concentrated oil bearing sites.

Unit #3’s CCS system should be up and running in 2014, but the project is already creating lots of buzz. “We’ve already got people from countries all over the world having a look at it,” Mayor Ludwig reports. In fact, the new approach could have widespread impacts on the use of coal and may even help transform the way the world looks at this controversial fuel source. “Once we can prove we are successful here, it will be an opportunity for other countries to get back into coal again,” Mayor Ludwig insists.

The development could also influence attitudes closer to home. “For example, in Ontario, they basically came to the decision that coal is dirty and they wanted nothing to do with it,” Mayor Ludwig points out. “And they have basically gone to zero coal. Anything to do with coal they pretty much cut off.” If the combined efforts of the Boundary Dam and Aquistore projects prove that carbon dioxide can be efficiently captured and safely stored, “It could revitalize the industry all over the world, really.”

Global interest in the community’s clean energy projects has inspired the city council to promote Estevan as an important industrial tourism site. Tourists could explore, and learn from, the cutting edge technology at work in the Aquistore well and in Unit#3. The inner workings of the entire Boundary Dam power plant are also well worth a visit, as are the nearby open pit mines and oil fields.

Estevan has been working hard to reduce the environmental impact of resource extraction and energy production for many years, Mayor Ludwig explains, so all of these sites showcase earth friendly practices worth studying. “For a long time we have been using cutting edge technology here in the vicinity to do what we can to alleviate some of the concerns around the environment.” The city council is also working closely with the Chamber of Commerce to launch an energy show that would highlight Estevan’s energy achievements and forward-thinking environmental practices.

The city council has also worked hard to ensure that Estevan ranks high in liveability as well as in sustainability and job opportunities. A number of dedicated organizations and clubs also work to support the citizenry by sponsoring a range of recreational sports and community programs. “We’ve got a lot of positive things going on,” Mayor Ludwig points out. Estevan Leisure Center gives residents the opportunity to host events and to enjoy a wide variety of recreational activities. The facility includes a squash court, weight room, steam room, and gym, as well as an Olympic sized swimming pool with a waterslide, hot tub, and diving board. Water lovers can take swimming lessons and aquatic fitness classes here year round, or participate in swimming competitions or a game of water polo.

Estevan also maintains an art gallery and two museums. Younger residents flock to the local skate park, and nature lovers enjoy the lovely Woodlawn Park. A new park at Boundary Dam that will be able to accommodate campers will be opening soon as well. Hunting, archery, and target shooting are also common past times. In addition, the city just built a state of the art, $20 million dollar events centre. “We are so proud of that,” says Mayor Ludwig. “It is probably one of the nicest facilities of its kind in Western Canada.” Spectra Place includes an ice surface, hosts many concerts and events, and is an ideal site for trade shows. “It’s really opened things up.”

With so much to offer, it is no wonder that Estevan is one of the fastest growing cities in Saskatchewan. The community also boasts the highest number of jobs proportionately in the entire region. Even so, Council isn’t resting on its laurels. “We are looking to attract even more business and industry to the area,” Mayor Ludwig reports. The municipality operates “in a business fashion” to provide the best services and promote the most growth. “For many years in the past we did not run the city as a business and now we made the clear, conscious decision to run the city as a business and we have been very successful. Before we do something we have to have a business case. ‘Does it make sense to do this? Can we justify it to our citizens?’ We are very conscious of that.”

The business minded approach has been remarkably effective. One popular initiative has been to slash property taxes. Now, Estevan boasts the second lowest commercial property tax rate in the area, and one of the lowest residential tax rates. “We’ve worked very hard on that over the years,” Mayor Ludwig reports. “Council has made it one of their goals… and we’ve been successful.” Indeed, an increasing number of businesses are attracted by the wealth of natural resources and business-friendly tax codes, as well as the high quality of life that the municipality offers. As a result, the city is growing at an astounding rate.

Council members understand that rapid growth can bring challenges, and they are determined to guide it in the best way possible so that, in the end, it benefits residents of all industries and interests. “It’s a balancing act that we walk,” Mayor Ludwig points out. “So we want to be very careful about how we expand… We have to expand in the proper fashion.”

Mayor Ludwig, who served on Council for 18 consecutive years prior to becoming Mayor, is confident that the city’s governing body has what it takes to guide Estevan through the boom. “We’ve got a great council and staff,” he says. “I just can’t say enough about that. We look forward to great things coming.”

June 24, 2018, 3:00 AM EDT

A Proactive Approach to Resolving a Longstanding Debate

About forty skilled Central and South American workers from Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Costa Rica came to British Columbia, Canada as temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in 2006. This story incited Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) call for reforms to Canada’s TFW program (TFWP) and the International Mobility Program (IMP). LiUNA, a powerful voice within the construction industry with over half a million members – 110,000 of whom are in Canada – has been the only Canadian union to address the issue.