Thirty years ago, when Soheil Asgarpour was graduating from university, a professor warned him against a career in the oil and gas industry, lest reserves run out before his career was over.

But now that Canada has been recognized as holding one of the largest hydrocarbon deposits in the world with enough oil and gas to take his grandchildren’s grandchildren to retirement, industry’s challenge is no longer deposits, Asgarpour told the annual general meeting of Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC).

“Our challenge is to find technological solutions and use innovation to reduce costs, reduce environmental footprints, minimize the negative social impacts of our development and make sure that these activities are profitable for our industry,” PTAC’s president told the meeting. “I think innovation and collaboration will enable us to do this job. We are working in a resource industry that is now driven more by technology than resources, and collaboration plays a major role.”

Founded in 1996, PTAC is a not-for-profit association that facilitates collaborative research and technology development to improve the financial, environmental and safety performance of the Canadian oil and gas industry.

PTAC’s collaborative model was launched in 2010. The next year it facilitated a record number of projects, tripling the amount of the previous year and in 2012 the number of projects rose to five times the level seen in 2010, he said.

This year, the organization will facilitate 73 research and development projects, engage in new technology areas, and sign a memorandum of understanding with several companies, said Asgarpour.

Technologies under consideration include organic rankine cycle devices, waste energy transformation, energy storage and energy efficiency, and measurement of air emissions.

PTAC projects will explore new oilsands well configurations, reservoir recovery methods and issues related to the wind-down of SAGD projects.

Its committees have come up with a number of potential solutions related to partial upgrading technologies and the value of limited pipeline shipments, and these solutions are expected to result in collaborative technology development projects in 2013.

Also this year, the organization plans to explore new applications in cloud computing, geomatics, remote sensing and photonics in the areas of safety, reservoir modelling, facilities, project development and energy efficiency

In 2013, PTAC intends to review proposed technologies for improving bitumen pipeline capacity limitations and safe abandonment of pipelines.

PTAC added 38 projects last year that were aimed at reducing costs, minimizing environmental footprints, maximizing recovery and making the most of value-added opportunities.

“These projects were executed using PTAC’s proven collaborative model, accelerating development and commercialization of new technologies at a fraction of the cost of pursuing those developments solo,” said Asgarpour.

Last year a major focus for PTAC was on the commercialization of several technologies, said Asgarpour. The organization started moving from its focus on applied research and engineering into field pilots for such technologies as a hot water vapour-process project, a shallow-gas well dewatering pump consortium, a zero-emission well site project and an ultra-lightweight proppant, he said.

In addition, the PTAC-facilitated Alberta Upstream Petroleum Research Fund investigated best practices for industry and helped government agencies refine environmental policies and regulations. Last year PTAC added the Remote Sensing Technology Action Plan to its list of networks.

That list also includes the Clean Bitumen Technology Action Plan, the Resource Emissions Technology Action Plan and the Tight Oil and Gas Technology Action Plan. The volunteer-run networks provide a forum for members to articulate challenges, share their inventories of technologies, and launch consortia for further work.

In 2012, the organization hosted 23 events showcasing current technological innovations and sharing ongoing research developments.

Also last year, the scope of PTAC’s collaboration model expanded when it was selected as project administrator for the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions project (NAMA), he said.

Traditionally, international climate change funding is awarded to international development banks but a new precedent was set in January 2012 when United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Canada’s federal minister of environment, Peter Kent, announced a PTAC project that set a greenhouse gas emissions baseline for Colombia and Mexico, Asgarpour told the meeting.

The project brings together representatives from Canada, Mexico and Colombia to develop methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, enable implementation of mitigation and improve access to financing under future climate agreements.

NAMA introduced numerous Canadian technologies to Ecopetrol, Colombia’s state-run oil company and Pemex, Mexico’s state oil and gas monopoly, he said.

In a keynote speech at the meeting, Diana McQueen, Alberta’s minister of environment and sustainable resource development, said that when she was in Ottawa a few weeks ago she and Kent showed people the “very positive” results of the first year of joint federal-provincial monitoring of the environment surrounding oilsands projects.

“I think in some areas people were a little shocked about how well the results were,” said McQueen. “I think they were thinking that after the first year of monitoring we’d be seeing a whole bunch of negative results and I think it’s kudos to the group that is doing the monitoring on the ground for us but also the industry that takes the environmental outcomes very seriously. You don’t always hear that but we know that you do as you develop the resources.”

She said Alberta’s technology fund has grown to just over $300 million since 2008 and has funded 49 clean energy projects.

McQueen congratulated PTAC on its work, in particular its international projects.

“I think those are extremely important and it shows not just the great collaboration that you have but the amount of importance that people, both at the provincial level and federal level, and internationally as well, are putting on the importance of PTAC and the work that you’re doing,” she told the meeting.

By Lynda Harrison, The Daily Oil Bulletin