RAG’s production activities play an important part in Austria’s energy supply security and reduce the country’s dependence on imports. This means that domestic production is in the interests of Austria’s entire economy. In principle, all hydrocarbons (oil and gas) are “federal mineral resources”, i.e. they are owned by the Republic of Austria. RAG has contractual rights for the “exploration, development and production of hydrocarbons”. In return, RAG must comply with a minimum exploration obligation and pay various additional levies to the Austrian government, namely mining fees, concession fees, royalties and storage fees. Around 400 people are currently employed at our Austrian facilities, and our collaboration with contractors also helps to secure additional jobs.
Hydrocarbons like oil and gas are formed from organic material such as animal and plant remains. Microorganisms and algae that live in water sink to the sea bed when they die and become embedded in mud. This leads to the formation of what is called source rock – a layer of mud which oxygen cannot reach. Over time, the source rock is covered by more and more layers of mud, leading to increases in pressure and temperature. Under such conditions, dead organic material turns into kerogen, and ultimately into hydrocarbons, which then migrate from the source rock to adjoining layers with higher porosity, such as sandstone. If this sandstone is sealed by a layer of rock, the conditions are in place for the formation of an oil or gas field. The process by which organic matter turns into oil and gas began hundreds of millions of years ago below ground, and is still in progress today.
Production of synthetic gas is already a reality. Gas has a host of advantages as an energy source: it can be transported underground and out of sight over long distances, and can also be stored in large quantities, meaning that it is readily available for industry, heat generation and gas-powered vehicles. RAG is closely involved in several research projects focusing on the production of gas (hydrogen and methane) from renewables (such as wind and solar power).
According to the latest estimates, global gas reserves will not be exhausted for many decades. However, these figures are dependent on future consumption and technological developments.
Gas storage facilities underpin Europe’s energy supplies. Natural gas storage has grown in importance in recent years, and is now pivotal to security of supply in Austria and across Europe. The storage facilities operated by RAG currently hold 6.2 billion cubic metres of gas – equivalent to about 70% of Austria’s annual consumption. This infrastructure ensures that eco-friendly natural gas is available whenever it is needed.
RAG has been using depleted gas reservoirs to store gas for over 30 years, playing a key role in security of supply. Today it is Europe’s fourth-largest storage operator, and has converted about half of the gas reservoirs discovered during its 80-year history into storage facilities with long useful lives. This is a figure unmatched anywhere in the world. By progressively expanding its storage capacity, RAG has added a key additional link to its supply chain, and in doing so has developed a sustainable form of gas production.
Completion of the second development phase of the 7Fields storage facility, at Oberkling and Pfaffstätt, in April 2014 expanded RAG’s gas storage capacity to 6.2 billion cubic metres. These storage facilities are used to supply customers in Austria and abroad, and include joint ventures with major multinationals such as Gazprom and E.ON. RAG’s storage capacity is marketed by a wholly-owned subsidiary, RAG Energy Storage GmbH.
When gas arrives at a storage facility via a pipeline network, it first enters a metering station where it is filtered and the quantity and quality are measured. Injection and withdrawal take place via a number of wells. Where necessary, compressors bring the incoming gas up to the right injection pressure. Since compression raises the temperature, the gas must then be cooled before being conveyed to the wellhead and injected into the natural rock formations. Care must be taken not to exceed the original reservoir pressure. The gas is withdrawn when it is needed, and processed for transportation. It must be dried as it will have absorbed moisture in the reservoir. Once it is on-specification it enters the grid and is transported to the consumer.
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RAG has demonstrated that it is equal to the technical challenges posed by gas storage, and has the requisite expertise. The company’s state-of-the-art storage facilities are permanently monitored and maintained. Highly skilled staff run the installations from a dispatching centre, working around the clock to maximise efficiency and optimise environmental and technical performance. RAG is also an industry leader in terms of safety, and the entire safety management system at RAG’s installations is based on audited processes. In September 2009 RAG became the first European company to obtain Technical Safety Management (Technisches Sicherheitsmanagement, TSM) certification from the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (Deutscher Verein des Gas- und Wasserfaches e.V., DVGW). A surveillance audit carried out in 2014 did not give rise to any objections.
Systematic quality and environmental management, and strict health and safety standards are central to RAG’s philosophy.
With the technically operated storage capacity of more than 6.2 billion cubic meter of natural gas RAG is one of the biggest storage operators in Europe. RAG operates its own gas storage facilities and gas storage facilities as part of a joint venture project with its partners. RAG storage facilities are Puchkirchen/Haag, Aigelsbrunn and Haidach 5. RAG Joint Venture storage facilities are Haidach and 7Fields.
Further information about "Storage facilities"
When constructing production facilities, RAG takes preservation of the natural environment into account at the planning stage, as part of the environmental analysis. Locations are carefully selected, with the amount of land used as well as emissions and damage to the landscape kept to an absolute minimum. Land is restored to its previous state once a project has been completed. When it comes to constructing permanent facilities such as those for gas storage, RAG is committed to creating compensation areas. We also aim to continually expand cooperation with public authorities, environmental protection experts, planners, local councils and landowners, and to take account of their requirements and interests from an early stage.
Efficient use of energy and resources
We aim to use and distribute the energy required for our operations as efficiently as possible. The commissioning of combined heat and power (CHP) plants in Strasswalchen and Kremsmünster has enabled us to make particularly efficient use of electricity and heat from our production and storage facilities, and to inject energy into the public grid.
A project to reduce vehicle emissions has been in place for several years – this involves upgrading the vehicle fleet so that it is predominantly made up of natural gas vehicles, and building the necessary filling stations. These measures will reduce CO2 emissions significantly compared to conventional fuel types, and in some cases eradicate pollution (especially fine particulate dust) altogether. Our goal is to make it simpler for RAG employees and customers, and the general public to switch to environmentally-friendly and affordable technology.
Reusing natural reservoirs and wells
RAG’s core areas of business are oil and gas exploration and production, and gas storage. In order to ensure the company’s long-term survival, we are constantly enhancing our core operations through innovation, and research and development (R&D).
Thanks to our use of depleted natural gas reservoirs as gas storage facilities, in the past few years we have made significant strides in enhancing Europe’s security of supply, as well as implementing a new form of sustainable mining. We have now converted about half of the gas reservoirs discovered in our 80-year history into storage facilities with long useful lives – a figure unmatched anywhere in the world.
RAG invests heavily in innovative projects designed to promote decentralised energy supply. This includes geothermal after-use of dry or depleted wells.
One such project – a deep borehole heat exchanger working in combination with a biomass plant – supplies more than 100 households in Neukirchen an der Vöckla in Upper Austria with environmentally-friendly heating sourced from 2,850 meters below ground. This pioneering scheme marks a major step towards integrating conventional and renewable energy production.
Research into groundbreaking technologies
RAG is participating in international research projects aimed at converting renewables such as wind and solar power into gas that can then be transported using existing natural gas infrastructure and stored.
Wind + sun = gas – this is the equation behind “power to gas”, a revolutionary new technology.
Power to gas could hold the key to affordable transportation and storage of large quantities of solar and wind energy, making it available around the clock. Together, versatile natural gas and renewables are a dream team. Sometimes the wind does not blow or the sun goes in, while at other times surplus power is produced. For their share of the energy mix to keep on growing over the long term, renewables need a means of compensating for fluctuations in output.
Intermittent renewable electricity output is not the only problem. Something will also have to be done with all the excess power generated by giant wind farms and solar parks at times when demand is low. This surplus energy needs to be stored so that it can be made available during peak periods, but the capacity of the pumped storage plants used to date is far from sufficient. The answer is gas. The gas transportation and storage infrastructure in place has all the makings of a buffer storage system for green power.
Energy companies and research institutes in Austria and Germany are working flat out on new approaches to efficient, large-scale electricity storage. Power to gas technology is particularly promising. This involves converting renewable electricity into gas and using existing gas infrastructure to transport and store it. The principle behind this new, environmentally friendly technology could hardly be simpler. Surplus solar and wind power is used to split water into oxygen and hydrogen by means of electrolysis. This is followed by the methanisation stage, in which the hydrogen is reacted with carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 can be drawn from the atmosphere or it can come from a biogas or industrial plant. The product of the process is renewable synthetic natural gas. Methane is the main constituent of natural gas, making up around 98% of its content. It can be injected into the gas grid and used in the same way as conventional natural gas to fuel domestic space or water heating, industrial processes, and fleets of gas-powered vehicles, or alternatively for gas-fired electricity generation. The process gives rise to no emissions apart from the oxygen released when the water is split. A pilot plant that has been in operation in Stuttgart for three years is due to be replaced by a larger unit. Today the efficiency of the conversion process is already about 60% – a big step forward in view of the fact that surplus electricity is often not used at all owing to the lack of storage capacity, and instead wind turbines are idled or whole wind farms taken off the grid.
Using existing gas infrastructure
Thanks to methanisation, electricity can be converted into gas, making large-scale storage possible for the first time. The process solves one of the biggest problems posed by electricity storage – shortage of space. It can simply fall back on existing natural gas infrastructure, in the shape of the pipeline grid and the gigantic storage facilities. Instead of developing and rolling out expensive and elaborate new storage technologies, the power would be transformed into synthetic natural gas and stored in depleted gas reservoirs.
Harvesting, storing and supplying solar energy: RAG is currently testing this groundbreaking approach to energy production and storage in a unique pilot project. Storage of hydrogen, produced using solar energy, is being trialled at a small depleted gas reservoir in Pilsbach, Upper Austria.
Thanks to their storability, renewables are the only energy forms that can act as a straight replacement for conventional energy – and Austria’s gas storage facilities provide the necessary infrastructure. In terms of the strategic development of energy systems for the future, the results of the pilot will be hugely significant for companies, political decision-makers and public authorities.
The project was selected by an international panel of experts and is being financed by Austria’s Climate and Energy Fund.
For further information visit www.underground-sun-storage.at/en.
RAG’s top priority is eliminating the potential risks and dangers facing all of the people employed by the group and those living in the areas where we operate, as well as avoiding damage to the environment.
But preventing accidents does not just mean complying with statutory requirements. We have set a goal of zero accidents in all of our activities, and in order to achieve this we have established a dedicated managerial unit which systematically monitors adherence to our targets on the basis of the internal health, safety and environment (HSE) management system, and supports their consistent application and improvement.
In addition to implementing workplace safety measures aimed at the company’s own employees, we also work closely with contractors on safety-related initiatives. Clearly defined processes, efficient communication and specific guidelines and instructions enable us to meet the highest possible health and safety standards for external contractors’ staff.
All of RAG’s processes are designed to maximise environmental soundness. Minimising energy use and emissions, and using cutting-edge technology and methods to reduce waste and monitor the company’s plant and pipelines are particularly important.
RAG introduced an internal control system for its storage operations in 2011, meaning that it began systematically collecting, analysing and interpreting all energy-related data. This information feeds into energy-saving programmes. In 2013 we implemented an energy management system based on the ÖNORM EN ISO 50001:2011 standard, so that our approach can be externally audited and certified. This is also in accordance with the provisions of the "Bundes-Energieeffizienzgesetz" (Federal Energy Efficiency Act), which transposes the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU). In addition, our storage operations have received the Technical Safety Management (Technisches Sicherheitsmanagement, TSM) certificate from the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (Deutscher Verein des Gas- und Wasserfaches e.V., DVGW).