New Technology Magazine

Editor's View

Breaking down barriers

Western Canada is blessed with a tremendous endowment of non-renewable natural resources—resources we know are there and which we are becoming ever more efficient at extracting, as can be seen by growing production numbers in recent years. But in spite of our successes, barriers remain to creating a sustainable future of continued development of those resources.

Gaining market access, attracting and training an ever-larger workforce even as the retirement tsunami approaches, and attracting capital for large-scale projects—such as in the growing oilsands and the potential liquefied natural gas sector—are a few of the most obvious barriers. New technologies can play a role in dealing with such barriers by making pipelines and shipping safer; by automating more tasks and creating online tools to facilitate workforce training; and by creating greater efficiencies, and thereby decreasing the cost of development, for example.

But other barriers remain that we more closely associate with gaining social licence to operate. Some revolve around water—reducing the use of fresh water and treating waste water, both in the oilsands and in water-thirsty unconventional shale gas and tight oil production, as well as dealing with inevitable spills.

And some revolve around emissions, the Achilles heel of much oil and gas production today. The oilsands have generated international opposition that now threatens its continued growth, in large part because of its growing greenhouse gas emissions. And the shale gas and tight oil boom faces pushback in part due to its large water demands and its own greenhouse gas emissions, which some observers have suggested make it no cleaner than burning coal.

These barriers could threaten the long-term viability and growth of the oil and gas industry and must be addressed as urgently as those involving market access and growth in the workforce. It is, however, a great opportunity for new technologies to play a vital role in overcoming these barriers in future years. And the barriers also represent an opportunity for our greatest natural resource: our people.

Every October, New Technology Magazine focuses on some of the new technologies that offer the opportunity to surmount some of these pressing barriers in our Green Guide. These technologies address those challenges of treating water and cleaning oil spills, dealing with oilsands tailings ponds and reducing day-to-day emissions such as venting and fugitive releases that add up over time to a big problem.

While each technology represents a clever solution to such important challenges, what also becomes apparent in our Green Guide this year is the entrepreneurial roots of these solutions. More often than not, they are offered by start-ups and small service providers, entrepreneurs who saw opportunity in a new invention that could be applied to the oil and gas sector, or researchers themselves who have made the jump from university professor to business owner in order to apply their own discoveries to real world problems.

In an industry often dominated by giants, one of Canada’s greatest advantages is its supply of inventors, entrepreneurs and risk takers who strive to bring new technologies to the market despite the often long odds of success. It can be a momentous struggle to get these new technologies from the lab to the field and to eventual commercial success, and not all succeed. But for those that do, the industry in general becomes stronger and more sustainable over the long haul.

These “green” technologies are important not only for their feel-good, environmentally responsible nature, but because they actually boost profits over the long term and because they represent one of the best pathways forward for earning social licence and allowing the industry to flourish in future years.


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