Collaborative innovation in Canada's oil sands

WATCH: Our second instalment of the Resource Innovation Forum featured Wes Jickling, Chief Executive of Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), for a discussion on the collaboration that advances the environmental performance of Canada's major oil sands producers.

Thanks to support from Cenovus Energy, Resource Works hosted on November 5th, 2020 our second instalment of the Resource Innovation Forum, featuring Wes Jickling from COSIA. That’s a research-and-innovation partnership of nine companies, who produce 90% of the oil from the oil sands.

Here’s some of what he had to say, starting with a reminder that Canada has the world’s third-largest reserves of oil —167 billion barrels, or 10% of the world’s known oil reserves. Some 96% of that Canadian reserve is in the Alberta oil sands. And Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of oil.

Wes Jickling:

“If you looked at a glossy brochure about what COSIA is, I would characterize it as the place where Canada’s oilsands companies come to innovate together.

“It was created in 2012, essentially on the principle that, when it comes to environmental stewardship, when it comes to developing clean technologies and improving the environmental performance of this industry, oil sands can go faster, further, better, together.

“If we pool our resources and we pool our expertise, we can accelerate the improvements that we are making in environmental performance.

“We would call it ‘extreme collaboration’ between nine competitors, nine major competitor-companies. And what’s happening here is the nine companies are sharing, with one another, intellectual property, technologies, they’re giving access to one another’s, and sharing subject-matter experts.

“They’re giving access to one another’s sites and facilities, their research labs, and they’re pooling their research dollars, in some ways, to conduct research together.”

Jickling added: “This is a very Canadian thing, a very Canadian way of doing clean tech, or doing innovation and research and technology development. It’s a level of sharing and co-operation that we do not see if any other industry or any other group of competitors anywhere in the world.

“That’s extreme sharing, extreme collaboration, and it’s all about the environment.”

COSIA’s research and innovation focus is on four areas: land, water, tailings, and greenhouse gases.

Each of those four areas, he said, has its own joint-venture agreements that all the companies have signed to. They share a research agenda. They develop and pursue technology pathways, and work closely together, exchanging technological information and technologies. He shared some big numbers: COSIA partners have developed and shared 1,076 technologies, at a cost of about $1.6 billion. And the impact on operations would be “much much higher” than that $1.6 billion. There are 225 projects under way today, at a cost of $62.1 million.

Outcomes include the reduction in greenhouse gases emitted, per barrel of oil sands oil, by 20% from 2009-2018. “(This is) very significant. You don't see the other major producers in the world with that kind of trend-line.”  And an additional reduction of 16-23% is expected over the next decade.

As well, since 2012, COSIA members have reduced the intensity of fresh-water use from the Athabasca River by 46% at in situ operations, and by 18% at oil sands mining operations.

And there’s more: “In the oil sands we have some tremendous CO2, carbon-capture-and-storage assets. We’ve one of the world’s largest carbon-capture-and-storage facilities at the Quest facility at the Scotford refinery in Edmonton. We have the world’s biggest CO2 pipeline, the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line.”

By coincidence, Energy Now News recently posted some compelling examples of the significant environmental improvements made by members of COSIA:

  • Suncor Energy Inc. – kept GHG emissions flat during the past three years while increasing production significantly; plans to reduce GHG emission intensity by 30% by 2030.
  • Imperial Oil Ltd. – achieved a GHG emissions intensity reduction of 20% between 2013 and 2017; plans to reduce GHG emission intensity by 10% over the next five years.
  • Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. – achieved a GHG emissions intensity reduction of 20% during the past 10 years; reduced GHG emissions by about 15% during the past five years.
  • Cenovus Energy Inc. – reduced CO2 emissions intensity by about 30% from 2004 to 2019; plans to reduce GHG emissions intensity by 30% by 2030.

And we have more:

  • Catch Episode One of our Resource Innovation Forum, in which University of Calgary Chancellor Deborah Yedlin and RBC Senior Vice-President John Stackhouse joined us for a discussion on how institutional partnerships can advance innovation in Canada's oil sands. Thanks again to Cenovus for support.
  • And stand by for our third Cenovus-sponsored event on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 11 am PT. Episode Three looks at carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) as a path to lower the emissions intensity of the oil sands. We’ll be joined by a CCUS expert panel featuring Marcius Extavour, executive director of prize operations, energy and resources at the XPRIZE FoundationMarla Orenstein, director of the Natural Resource Centre at the Canada West Foundation, and Jeff Pearson, president of the Carbon Business Unit at Wolf Midstream. Our Director of Research, Margareta Dovgal, will be moderating.





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