Bridging the Gap
Last year I finally made the move. I traded a decade and a half long career with major oil sands companies for a small, heart on our sleeves, room full of brilliant people organization - all collectively working to create a game-changing technology – and it has been truly an eye-opening experience.
One day you are throwing around inspiring jargon like ‘collaborate’, ‘innovate’, ‘do more with less’, ‘disruption’. The next you are living it. This opportunity in my career has allowed me to become ‘The Innovator’, it sounds so grand. Before appropriating that term, I must say that I think that everyone is an innovator. It is just to what degree you embrace change, take risks and are doing things differently. To some extent, we all want to improve how we work, be more efficient and less negatively impact the environment.
Reflecting on my most previous role at a major oil sands company, I had the incredible experience of working in the day to day life of Operations. It truly is the exciting place to be in the business so close to the wellhead. In this 24/7 work environment you are checking production numbers and plant data hourly on your phone, frantically trying to figure out why rates were dropping on a single well or taking part in 10pm calls with on-site operations and maintenance to ensure steam output remained on full. In these types of positions, you don’t spend much time thinking about innovation. The thought of shutting in a well to do a technology trial was often chuckled at behind closed doors, not because the idea wasn’t respected, but because it just wasn’t feasible. For a long time our industry was driven by the mantra of “production is king”. This term, first proclaimed by a very wise manager I had the privilege to work with, has stuck with me throughout my operational career. If we were to disrupt the steady flow of oil (i.e. money into our pockets), we just might undermine the most important part of the business.
While working at these producer companies, we would attempt take a break from the day to day operations to talk strategy. At company town halls, team meetings and annual goal setting sessions we talked a good game, speaking about continuous improvement. On a personal front, the threat of a climate crisis weighed on my mind through constant exposure in everyday conversations and media. However, despite the ‘desire’ to evolve and change our development processes, the focus for many in industry remained on stable production. Stability in production equated to stability in cash flow and therefore, meeting company goals. If I was ever going to make an impact, I knew I had to make a move.
Fast forward to today, to my newly re-branded self, deeply engaged in seeking change in our industry through technology innovation. I now see an exciting opportunity to bridge the gap between the status quo - stable operations, cookie-cutter SAGD and relying on known practices – and unlocking a step change in the way we currently produce. Today this gap has become even more complex, but even more of a necessity. In today’s oil sands monarchy, we have other royalty to consider. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations compete with capital constraints, market access and curtailment. The underlying message remains - demand for oil production is steady and rising, and in Canada we have a lot of it, so how do we best play the current hand we are dealt?
Bridging the gap between maintaining the flow of production and becoming environmentally progressive, while at the same time sustaining an economically viable business requires shovel ready solutions such as Acceleware’s RF XL. This technology can be deployed on a pad scale, one bite at a time versus the traditional method that requires mega-project scale to justify the economics. RF XL allows operators to maintain and eventually grow cleaner production levels, one bite at a time, while enhancing their ESG performance. Despite how much progress we’ve made in the last 20-30 years, it is incredible to think there exists a way to reduce the capital costs of oil sands and heavy oil production by over 40% on both a capital intensity (dollar per flowing barrel) and a total capital investment basis - all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 25-100%.
The exciting part about working on a transformative clean-tech technology is seeing firsthand the sheer amount of rigor, physical testing, simulation, field and lab work that is done prior to committing to any single aspect of the design. The research and development team at Acceleware is made up of a mix of world-renowned electromagnetic experts, talented engineers and simulation specialists. Every day is focused on the same goal - continuous development and refinement of the most robust, electrically efficient and mechanically sound design possible. Another eye opener has been seeing how the team is supported by a host of incredible industry partners that are also dedicated to finding game changing solutions. Partners such as GE Research, Airbus Helicopters and Weatherford, to name a few. The immense power of these partnerships brings an additional layer of technical strength to our work.
In my role as VP of Engineering at Acceleware, I recently witnessed the power of collaboration first-hand in our recent field trial we performed with our prototype RF converter. Details and outcomes of this test were described in a recent press release. This field test involved an incredible amount of planning, safety and diligence from our engineering team. As well we had the engagement of industry partner, GE Research - who flew all the way from New York to spend three days in an open field with us at minus 20°C. The success of this test reinforces the level of brilliance contained within our small company to put together a test of this magnitude, the first that we know of at this high level of power, confirming our intellectual property and our design.
As we continue to navigate the changing industry, production will remain a king in our poker hand. But with game changing technologies, such as RF XL, we have a royal flush, balancing our world of energy abundance with environmental progress. Together as a thermal industry we can sit on the same side of the poker table and play our strongest hand, in the development of one of our world’s most precious and valuable resources, the Canadian oil sands.
Vice President, Engineering