Power engineering students are expected to be the greatest beneficiaries of a Shell Canada donation to Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) this fall, but the oil and gas industry stands to benefit as well.
The new Shell Canada Learning Lab at GPRC’s Fairview campus consists of a flare separation building, a multistage oil and gas separator building, a compressor building, a glycol heat pumping unit and an aerial cooler that were all most recently employed in a pilot project at Shell’s Peace River oil sands operations. At an estimated value of $500,000, which doesn’t include the transportation costs that were also covered by the oil company, it is among the largest donations in kind ever given to that campus.
“The purpose of the pilot project was to test a Shell patented technology,” said Shell spokesperson Adrienne Lamb. “And so the pilot program was only meant to run for a certain length of time. And once it was successfully completed, we didn’t have a need for the equipment anymore.
“Our investment in the communities can take a number of forms,” she continued. “So, we can invest through dollars. We also provide in kind donations, which is essentially what this one was. So, it was kind of a win-win for everyone – that we could find a home for this equipment [and] the school could use it. There’s a benefit for us to support programs like this educational program because ultimately we can also benefit from the graduates that come out of these programs as well.”
Shell had the power engineer program in mind when they made the donation, largely because of the close proximity between Fairview and the Peace River oil sands project.
“We’ve been producing bitumen from that area for a number of years,” said Lamb. “And so, potentially, some of the graduates from that program could end up ultimately working at one of our Peace River operations.”
Shell also has an application to expand those operations under regulatory review.
“We’re sort of looking to the future as well and see that there’s going to be a need for trained people,” she added.
The college thought the equipment might be useful for a number of their programs, not just power engineering, according to Chris Laue, dean of trades, agriculture and environment at GPRC.
“They were actually very, very good with us, making sure that we didn’t get stuck with things that were not useful,” said Laue, discussing the relationship with Shell.
“The glycol is a couple years old and it wouldn’t have lasted much longer,” he continued, discussing an example. “And we would have been stuck with maybe 400 barrels of glycol that we would have to get rid of. And getting rid of [that] meant, environmentally, we have to go through the process of getting somebody in there to dispose of it properly. That becomes a liability.
“They were very, very diligent in making sure that there wasn’t things there that were going to be liabilities for us in the short-term.”
Presently, the lab is simply a visual aid, but the college has bigger plans.
“One of the long-term goals would be, if it’s feasible, to actually run simulated fluids,” said Laue. “What was going through there before was condensate, sour gas, those kinds of things. And we’re not going to run that through in a training situation. But, ideally, in the long-term, we would like to … get that at least to a level of being a simulated process plant.
“And then tie that also in with our existing power engineering lab so that now we’ve got an opportunity for our power engineering students to look at the gas process side of it and some of the controlling that goes on relative to the process side.
“And we’d also have our instrumentation students be able to be exposed to some very current, very applicable … models that they would experience out in industry. So, they would have a real hands-on look at what was happening out in industry.”
Laue admitted that the possibility of expanding their programming to include oil and gas processing is only speculation at this point, but the college isn’t ruling it out, even though nearby schools such as Northern Lights College already run similar programs.
“We’re all working towards addressing the needs of training in the north,” said Laue. “And I don’t think we would be getting into competition when you consider how much demand there is out there.”
Laue also insisted that oil and gas industry involvement in training and education is “absolutely critical” for colleges like GPRC to be successful.
“In order to get good quality, current material, you need to work with industry in order to establish legitimate, current training aids,” he said. “And those are fairly costly. It’s not difficult to spend millions of dollars. And if we have the access to industry support from that perspective, it works out extremely well.
“Industry can also guide us as to what is the most relevant information that is necessary for students so that they come out of our training programs and they have the skills that are necessary to step into industry.
“It doesn’t do a student any good to be taught on something that’s either outdated or something that isn’t relevant to industry.”
“We actually provide funding through a number of ways to education,” said Lamb. “We provide scholarships. We help support training programs. It’s a big area of focus for us. And so, as part of that, there’s a recognition that, as a company and as an industry, we’re going to need people with education and certain skill sets for our operations.
“We believe it’s an area that’s important to support.”