Oil sands companies making progress sharing technologies

| November 29, 2013 | 0 Comments
oil sands

Aerial overview of Suncor oil sands plant located north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo: Suncor

Still a long way to go in oil sands tech sharing

New technology is an important part of reducing the environmental footprint of the Canadian oil sands, but why re-invent the wheel? Shouldn’t oil sands companies share innovations?

Oilsands companies have made some progress of late, but there is still a lot of room for improvement, according to Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) CEO Dan Wicklum.

oil sands

Dan Wicklum, CEO of Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance. Photo: Handout.

“These are lions and tigers,” said Wicklum. “I think it’s fair to say that there’s still much more road in front of us than there is behind us.”

Since COSIA’s inception 21 months ago, 560 technologies that collectively cost $900 million to develop have been shared amongst Canada’s biggest oil sands players and 185 projects are currently in various stages of development.

One of the most difficult parts was drawing up legal agreements from scratch that would enable the companies to contribute their technologies without running into intellectual property concerns, Wicklum says.

On Tuesday, COSIA laid out some broad “aspirations” related to four priority areas: land, water, greenhouse gases and tailings.

But the alliance has not yet set firm targets in those areas or a firm timeline by which members plan to meet those goals.

Wicklum says COSIA members are working on pinning down some quantitative performance goals, which will be made public.

“It’s important to get these right,” the one-time Calgary Stampeder told reporters. “They need to be realistic.”

Since its launch, COSIA has broadened its reach beyond oil sands producers to other companies with relevant expertise to bear. So far there are 24 so-called “associate” members of COSIA, including GE Canada, which recently pledged $20 million to work on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption.

On Tuesday, some COSIA member companies provided examples of the technologies the’ve shared and used through the organization.

For instance, as Shell Canada pursues its Carmon Creek oi lsands project in northwest Alberta, it will draw on Devon Energy’s expertise in building pipelines that have a smaller impact on land, said Kim Code, Shell’s vice-president of heavy oil development.

And she said Shell has ideas of its own to contribute – based on its experience operating in the Gulf of Mexico – that can reduce the amount of land disturbed.

ConocoPhillips Canada is contributing cogeneration technology that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 17 per cent, as well as “vacuum insulated tubing” that improves heat efficiency in wells, said president Ken Lueers.

The mechanics of sharing the technology aren’t easy, Wicklum said, describing COSIA as the “oil on the cogs” of a rather complicated process.

“It’s not just throwing a stack of documents on the table,” said Wicklum.

Meanwhile, the Tailings Technology Roadmap and Action Plan project is helping companies identify the most suitable technologies for tailings management.

The project is a collaboration between Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions (AI-EES) and the Oil Sands Tailing Consortium (OSTC) in partnership with Alberta Energy, Natural Resources Canada, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, and the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board.

“This project provides us with a full view of the suite of tailings technologies for application to oil sands reclamation,” said Dr. Eddy Isaacs, CEO, AI-EES in a news release by COSIA.

Key players of the project include Suncor Energy, Syncrude Canada Ltd., Shell Canada, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Imperial Oil, Total E&P Canada and Teck Resources.

“The passion and energy that this group of people has moving forward has accelerated,” said Devon Canada president Chris Seasons.

“That’s not to say there isn’t conflict from time to time in the pace and how we all do it. But the fundamental passion, the desire to do it is absolutely there.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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