Feeding the Future
How Oil Drilling Can Help Canadian Crops

When discussing oil drilling, you don’t often think of its effect on agriculture. You’ve likely never thought that companies plumbing crude could actually be helping farmers grow their crops, but a new project currently up for discussion up in Canada’s oil-rich province of Alberta aims to use unused vertical oil wells to tap geothermal energy for use in greenhouses on the surface. Reuters reports:

Provincial legislator Shaye Anderson wants the Alberta government to allow an old well to be converted to geothermal energy to heat an 8,000 square-foot greenhouse. Currently the wells can only be used for extracting hydrocarbons…If accepted, the plan would mark the first time in Canada that disused wells have been used as a tool in agriculture. In the United States, there are two projects in Wyoming and one in North Dakota where oil wells are used for power generation. […]

Provided the government gives the green light, renewable company Sundial Energy Ltd will insert polyethylene pipe, used in high-pressure plumbing, down the wellbore’s steel casing to a depth of more than 1 kilometre, where temperatures are 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit (21-27 degrees Celsius). A fluid containing water blended with methanol and a pump conditioner, to prevent freezing and rusting, is pumped on a continuous closed loop between the bottom of the well and the surface, where the heat is extracted. […]

Nick Wilson, director of the Living Energy Project, said abandoning a disused well can cost up to C$300,000, while converting it to geothermal and putting a greenhouse on top would be less than half that.

Some of the biggest costs associated with geothermal energy have to do with drilling down deep enough into those “hot spots” in our planet’s crust, but as we’re seeing in Canada, the oil industry has in many places already finished that part of the work. Repurposing those derelict wells can help bring down costs for greenhouses and increase agricultural productivity.

This is just one example of the many smart innovations and adaptations companies and countries are working on around the globe, as we look to tackle the future challenges of feeding our planet’s global population as our climate changes. Environmentalists have become self-made experts in portraying the dystopian future that awaits complacent humanity, but they’re far less adept at recognizing the many, many examples at hand of creative solutions to the admittedly serious problems that we face in the 21st century.

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