Petroleum Technology: There’s a Lot Going On
By Angela Altass
The petroleum industry continues to see many advancements and changes it comes to new technology.
“THERE IS A LOT GOING ON IN THE TECHNOLOGY SPACE,” states Richard Masson, chair of the World Petroleum Council Canada. “Hundreds of millions and billions of dollars are being spent a year on technology. For oil producers, there is the big challenge of climate legislation and reducing energy consumption while also wanting to be competitive.”
The way oil is produced, how it gets taken out of the ground, has seen a lot of advancements, says Masson, while also commenting on carbon capture and storage as well as transportation as areas of opportunity within the industry.
“One of the big ones is the use of solvents to get the bitumen out of the ground,” says Masson. “Companies have been working on this for over a decade and it’s just getting to the point where they have enough knowledge to really apply it in a large scale. Normally, you use steam and to make steam takes a lot of energy so if we can start to incorporate solvents, we can really reduce the amount of energy required to get the oil out of the ground.”
Canada is the fifth largest producer in the world of oil and natural gas, with some of the largest reserves in the world, and yet this country does not garner much attention from the rest of the world, says Masson.
“The oil sands are often thought of as the third largest reserve in the world,” states Masson, “but to most of the world, we’re not even relevant because all our production serves Canada a little bit but mostly goes to the United States. We don’t export any oil or natural gas outside of North America. It’s a funny thing when you go to an international conference and you know Canada has a lot going for it but we’re just not part of the conversation.”
World Petroleum Congress
The World Petroleum Council Canada will be hosting the 24th World Petroleum Congress in Calgary in 2023.
“We’ve been working for five years to bring this event to Calgary,” notes Masson. “We believe that Canada has a lot of leadership in environmental technology, in governance and indigenous relations and we want to be able to show the world these things. It’s going to be a great opportunity for some of the smartest people in the world to come to Canada and talk about how we can tackle the big challenges that are in front of us, including the transition of hydrocarbons to green energy.”
have been impacted by the pandemic and are on the rise, notes Masson.
“It’s going to be a tough winter,” he states. “When the pandemic hit, prices dropped essentially to zero. Suddenly, we had this decline in price and that meant low cash flow. Normally, companies would turn to Bay Street stocks and bonds to help fund new growth but the whole world has become worried about investing in carbon intensive industries. Companies had to cut back on spending. In Canada, we also have the problem of the lack of a pipeline to move our product.”
Projects, especially oil sands, take four to six years to build, including a regulatory process, three or so years of construction and a year to get it started up, notes Masson.
“So, we haven’t been investing in new production for a few years now and right now the world is saying we need more oil,” comments Masson. “Canada, and many other parts of the world too, is not in a position to increase production because we cut back spending so much when COVID hit. We have the resources and we know how to produce it but it is going to take time for us to invest the billions of dollars required to increase production to meet the growing need now that everyone is starting to mobilize again after the pandemic. It’s hard to predict the future but I think it looks like at least the next few months are going to be difficult.”
Five companies in Alberta have joined an alliance called the Pathways Initiative with the goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands operations by 2050.
“Between them, these companies control 90 per cent of oil sands production,” notes Masson. “We believe a big piece of this will be carbon capture and storage. In Alberta, we have a lot of reservoirs and we really understand geology. We know very well where we can put CO2 underground. We have the technology, and we’ve proven it in large scale commercial projects, where we can capture CO2 and transport it safely through pipelines and store it underground.”
One of the biggest challenges for fuel retailers will be knowing which technologies, whether it is biofuel, hydrogen, electric or gas, to bring into your business and how much to invest, states Masson.
“It just seems like there is going to be a lot of change happening over the next couple of decades,” says Masson. “So, the fuel retailer will have a very interesting challenge. The industry has this really big challenge in the climate crisis. We have to change and yet we don’t have the technology in place to allow us to change without a big disruption to our economy and our lives. It’s very unsettled and that’s one reason oil prices are going up.”
Although the interest in solar and wind power is strong, Masson says that because they can’t be counted on if the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow and there aren’t enough ways to store that type of energy, we are going to need oil and natural gas for some time yet. While he says he is not an expert on biofuel, which is produced from biomass, he thinks it is difficult to say whether it is going to make a significant difference in the industry.
Earlier this year, Parkland Corporation announced the co-processing of approximately 44 million litres of Canadian-sourced canola and tallow bio-feedstocks in 2020 with aims of increasing this to 100 million litres in 2021.
“Our refinery is focused on delivering the essential fuels our customers depend on, but with lower carbon intensity,” says Ryan Krogmeier, senior vice president, trading, refining and health, safety and environment, Parkland Corporation. “We continue to ramp-up our use of Canadian bio-feedstocks and scale our innovative co-processing capabilities.”
Parkland’s Burnaby refinery was the first facility in Canada to use existing infrastructure to co-process bio-feedstocks, such as canola oil and oil derived from animal fats, alongside crude oil to produce low carbon fuels, with the resulting fuels having less than one eighth of the carbon intensity of conventional fuels, states a press release from the company.
Dover Fueling Solutions has been working passionately towards bold, forward-thinking technology to improve the customer experience, says Jen Threlkeld, senior product marketing manager, Dover Fueling Solutions (DFS).
“This concentrated effort lead to fuel industry solutions designed by fuel industry experts,” says Threlkeld. “One of our biggest launches recently in North America is the DFS Anthem UX user experience platform. We have taken customer experience to the next level with a 27-inch touchscreen, which provides an interactive and engaging user interface at the dispenser.”
The petroleum industry was overdue for a transformation, says Threlkeld.
“The petroleum industry has been discussing the store of the future concept for many years and, finally, true connectivity between the forecourt and in-store has allowed retailers to focus on the comprehensive customer experience,” says Threlkeld. “But to focus on the customer experience, the retailer experience has to become smoother and that is being accomplished through process automation. The digital transformation has ushered in new solutions designed to drive efficiency while protecting margin, such as DX Monitor which reduces dispenser downtime and proactively detects maintenance needs. Technology designed to help retailers will ultimately flow through to benefit customers.”
Technology evolves at such a rapid pace that no one company can stay ahead of every element, says Threlkeld, “but you can find partners like DFS who specialize in this industry and prioritize your growth.”
Threlkeld advises to focus on what technology could do for your business in five years instead of just looking at what it can help you fix today.
“DFS is keenly focused on technology because it is the lifeblood of fueling and convenience retail,” says Threlkeld. “As technology changes, so do the opportunities. One big focus is on technology that simplifies, saves time and money, and improves efficiency and accuracy. Technology facilitates a seamless fueling experience, boots sales and improves security. Technology is what makes life better for our customers and their customers.”