Tech Up: Oil and Gas Embraces the Brave New World

Prairie Lithium. Photo by Greg Huszar - Ministry of Energy and Resources
Prairie Lithium. Photo by Greg Huszar - Ministry of Energy and Resources

There can be no doubt that change is happening in the fossil fuel industry. Saskatchewan has long relied on coal, oil, and gas for the health of our economy and these industries have kept food on the table for many families. This province isn’t afraid of innovation—and the challenges that are underway are being met with a mix of innovative people, processes and technologies.

Looking around the world, we can see the opportunities for new technology to make drastic improvements in the way we produce, move, and use energy. There is work happening with block chain tracking emissions, plans for Low Earth Orbit satellites to help monitor and share data, and simply better aggregating information that is collected in countless traditional ways.

So Much Data

Improving data management—getting all those spreadsheets, photos, and decades of steel file folders—into a format that can be interpreted by new technology is a challenge worth tackling. In some cases, simply harmonizing the method of collection and display can help improve the industry. In the UK, an app has been developed that maps the location of every energy related site in the region.1

While not an entirely exciting app by itself, having that information in one place will help all energy industries make more efficient decisions and this will improve every aspect of their energy production and use. It is a model we should be considering here. Combine that with their recent experiments in using renewable energy to power oil and gas facilities—and you can see the variety of solutions being worked on.

Yes—using renewable energy to help power oil and gas rigs. Sounds like a meme waiting to happen, but oil and gas are still very much required and finding better ways to pull it from the ground and get it to market is a step in the right direction. There are massive gains to be had with increased performance, and as technology is adapted around the world and here at home, the dollar value of these efficiencies is easy to see.

Tech at Home

Ian Cunningham, founder and CEO at Wave9, has been working on making it safer and easier for producers to monitor their oil wells, and his company is producing a solution to a problem that the wide-open spaces of Saskatchewan make oil producers feel keenly monitoring well sites.

“Everyone involved in our company at one point lived in Saskatchewan and had exposure to the oil industry there through different factors,” he says. “Recently, we saw an opportunity to automate a particular process. Right now, folks drive around everyday to inspect well sites. We know some things about automation and technology and with our service, we can allow them to spend their time more effectively.”

Today, most companies employ operators that drive to the well site. They look at the well, make sure it is running, inspect for fluid leaks, and check packing seals and any indication of contamination.

Wave9 is changing this labour-intensive process with a combination of hardware, cloud computing and AI technology. The technology takes photos of the well site area and processes them with AI to determine if are well head leaks. It also monitors power to the pumps and can examine the power signature to see potential problems for the operator to fix.

This helps with early detection so there are no surprises when an operator arrives on site. Instead, operators can have the material they need, and are aware of any potential hazards before they arrive. Cunningham notes that while Wave9 is not a safety device, a view on safety is included. “Safety is paramount in every company’s mind. This isn’t a safety solution, but there’s a safety aspect to it.”

The reduced workload on inspections, more efficient identification of issues, and the reduced environmental risk by providing early detection all mean long-term savings from a potentially costly clean-up or the damage to reputation from your company name in the news alongside an environmental event.

“It’s important to continually reduce the points where you’re having fluid leak or gas releases or other sources of carbon emission, and if you’re taking trucks off the road you’re reducing the carbon footprint of the industry. If you’re more effectively monitoring unexpected releases of fluid or gas, that’s an important thing to show the industry is actively being responsible and meeting society’s expectations around environmental stewardship,” Cunningham says. “The increased use of IOT (Internet of things), the increased reliability of IOT, better integration with wireless networks and cloud data have come together to make it possible to rapidly develop and inexpensively deploy technology that can do this. AI is the last piece of the puzzle. Once you bring AI into the picture, it looks at thousands of photos for you and directs attention to the areas the operators need.”

Embracing the Future

In addition to making our wells easier to monitor, we also have companies in Saskatchewan looking to get more out of existing sites and help emerging industries. Prairie Lithium and LiEP Energy recently made news with their Lithium Hydroxide extraction and refining process underway in Saskatchewan oilfields.

Working alongside existing operations, their process takes lithium enriched brine, extracts the lithium, and returns the brine to the drilling process where it is injected back underground. This extract—a major component of batteries—is going to be very sought after as the world embraces electric automobiles in coming years.

Innovation is what will enable Saskatchewan to continue moving forward. Whether it is using technology to get more efficiency out of existing processes, using new technology to create new value add opportunities to our established industries, or adapting new technology to create opportunities in emerging fields—we have the opportunity now to set the tone as a leader in energy production technology adoption.

1Groundbreaking new app details every energy resource in the North Sea, Oil & Gas Technology, http://www.oilandgastechnology.net/news/groundbreaking-new-app-details-every-energy-resource-north-sea