Calgary-based innovation network aims to make Canada world’s cleanest oil and gas producer

Mark Lowey
April 10, 2019

A cross-country innovation network is seeking to leverage a $100-million federal investment from Budget 2019 to accelerate commercialization and deployment of clean technologies in Canada’s oil and gas industry.

The aim of the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN), based in Calgary, is to produce the cleanest hydrocarbons in the world, thereby giving Canada’s petroleum industry a competitive advantage over other oil- and natural gas- producing nations. "The goal is to be both footprint-competitive and cost-competitive,” said Joy Romero, vice-president of technology and innovation for Canadian Natural Resources Limited and CRIN’s chair, in conversation with RE$EARCH MONEY.

CRIN is developing various clean technologies that can be applied in other industries, both domestically and internationally: “A steel plant in Ontario, a hotel in Halifax, a petrochemicals facility in Quebec ... it really doesn’t make any difference," says Romero.

[rs_related_article slug="five-supercluster-proposals-share-950-million-in-funding/"]CRIN had applied to be one of Canada’s new innovation superclusters, but wasn’t among the five chosen by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) to share $950 million in funding over the next five years. The $100 million over four years for CRIN will flow through ISED’s Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF).

Industry picks “winners and losers”

CRIN operates essentially with a supercluster model, says Soheil Asgarpour, president of Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC), which is leading CRIN’s effort to reduce the industry’s methane emissions. CRIN's innovation ecosystem makes it easier to identify technology gaps and avoid R&D duplication, he says. “Through collaboration, there is a huge advantage.”

CRIN’s more than 140 members include conventional and unconventional oil and gas producers; industry associations; research and learning institutions; government agencies; entrepreneurs; incubators and accelerators; SMEs; and financiers.

As with Canada’s five superclusters, Romero says that the industry members of CRIN select those technologies for commercialization that offer solutions to their real-world problems. “We as industry are choosing the winners and losers, which usually de-risks anyone who wants to fund, be that government funding or private funding,” she says. “The majority of these technologies are coming from Canadian entrepreneurs selling their technologies to us and to others, both in Canada and globally.”

CRIN is focused on the deployment phase (field pilots to commercial roll out) in seven main technology areas:

  • cleaner fuels for reducing carbon intensity;
  • low-to-zero carbon hydrocarbon production to end use;
  • novel hydrocarbon extraction;
  • water technology development;
  • digital oil and gas technology;
  • methane monitoring, quantification and abatement; and
  • novel land and wellsite remediation.

[rs_related_article slug="new-innovation-network-to-slash-oil-and-gas-industrys-methane-emissions/"]Several of these technologies are critical to achieving the federal government's targets of reducing the industry’s methane emissions by 45% by 2025 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Meeting these targets is considered to be the biggest challenge facing the oil and gas industry today, according to a consultant’s Clean Energy Resources Roadmap Analysis prepared for CRIN.

Canada’s leading R&D investor

Romero says the oil and gas industry invests more than $1.4 billion a year in R&D — most of it into clean tech — making it Canada’s leading R&D investor, with investment increasing more than 10 times from 2009 to 2015. The industry also is the country’s largest single private investor, contributing 533,000 direct and indirect jobs, 6.1% to Canada’s GDP, and a capital expenditure of $45 billion in 2017, CRIN says.

Romero says her company, Canadian Natural Resources, has reduced the absolute volume of methane emissions in its heavy oil operations by 71% in five years. Moreover, the "lifecycle" (from each stage of production to end use) greenhouse gas emissions from Alberta’s oil sands producers are now either slightly above or, for some companies, below the global average, she says.

A study in the journal Science by Stanford University and the University of Calgary found that emissions from global oil production could be cut by 23% if other countries such as Russia, Iran, the U.S. and Venezuela adopted regulations similar to Canada’s, which limit the amount of gas flared or vented into the air, Romero notes. “This impression that Canada has dirty oil couldn’t be more wrong.”

PTAC’s Asgarpour says the oil and gas industry already has the technological capacity to reduce methane emissions by 30% and, by 2020, will have the technology to achieve the 45% target by 2025. CRIN member Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance says its member-companies have so far spent $545 million on more than 980 technologies to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint. Another CRIN member, Alberta Innovates, has invested $2 million in the “Bitumen Beyond Combustion” initiative, involving seven projects exploring alternative, non-combustion uses for oil sands bitumen.

“We don’t really need to have a trade-off between financial performance and environmental performance,” Asgarpour says. “With innovation, we can do both.”


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