New Water Treatment Operator Program Filled to Capacity
Thirty-four students filed into the classroom in September to fill every available spot in the new Water Treatment Operator Certificate of Achievement Program offered at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT Polytechnic).
"We're very excited about the new program, which has drawn more interest than we anticipated. The students are so excited and interested in the area of study being offered, it is truly very gratifying," said Emily Lees, Academic Chair for SAGD Water Treatment Operator, Chemical Laboratory Technology, and Environmental Technology at SAIT Polytechnic's MacPhail School of Energy.
The certification program — the first of its kind — was initiated and developed by OSLI's Water Management Working Group (WMWG) in collaboration with SAIT to provide specific training for operators of the complex water treatment facilities critical to Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) oil sands operations. Although originally only 20 students were expected for the program's inaugural year, demand was so high that a decision was made to fill the course to its full capacity, said Lees. "We have a real variation in the demographics of the students taking this program. For many of them it is a new career direction."
Students' ages range from 20 to 45 years, and the majority are male, with five female students. All students had to meet the program's prerequisites, which included an average of 50 per cent in Math 30, Chemistry 30 and English 30.
The full-time program consists of three 15-week semesters. Graduates are expected to find employment in Alberta's in situ oil sands industry, where SAGD is the most commercially successfully method used to development bitumen buried so deep that it must be extracted in situ or underground. In SAGD, high-pressure steam is injected underground to heat the reservoir until the thick bitumen flows and can be
moved to the surface. The steam condenses in the reservoir and is recovered as water together with the bitumen. Bitumen and water are separated and the produced water is treated so it can be recycled.
Industry veterans describe SAGD as a water treatment plant where bitumen is the byproduct, underscoring the importance of operating the complex water treatment facilities as effectively as possible.
This need drove the WMWG to spearhead development of the program, which took two-and-a-half years to complete, from initiation to accreditation and implementation. The OSLI team and the SAIT team spent many hours and much effort designing, preparing and launching this program. Once approval was received from Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education, the program was advertised and three program information sessions were held by OSLI and SAIT, at the SAIT campus. An overwhelming number of prospective students attended the sessions, resulting in a total of 70 applications.
Students will be taking nine courses including: general chemistry; SAGD water chemistry; lab techniques; industrial safety & environmental regulation; process control; process analysis; mechanical equipment; unit operations; and computer/communication skills.
Recognizing that many SAGD operations require the water treatment operator to perform other technical tasks, another module may be added to the program to ensure graduates also have a Third- or Fourth-Class Steam Engineer ticket. Students graduating in 2013 will be asked to obtain the ticket, which can be done through correspondence courses.
The program is being offered at the Aldred Centre, part of a new $400-million Trades and Technology Complex opened at SAIT Polytechnic in time for the September, 2012 school year. The complex focuses on training in energy, construction, manufacturing and automation and ARIS (Applied Research and Innovation