COSIA 2015 Innovation Summit

Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) hosted its first Innovation Summit in Banff, Alberta from March 31 to April 2, 2015 during which its members and other innovative organizations showcased the projects and technologies currently being developed to accelerating the pace of environmental performance improvement in the oil sands.

About 530 people attended the conference from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. In addition to COSIA members and Associate Members, representatives from both the provincial and federal governments, academic institutions, ENGOs and technology development firms were also in attendance. Attendees were given an in-depth look at the work currently underway to improve environmental performance in the oil sands and understand where their knowledge and expertise could be used in the development of existing and new collaborations with COSIA’s member companies.

 “We are a very diverse group here today,” said COSIA’s Chief Executive Dan Wicklum. “But one thing we have in common is that every single person in this room cares very deeply about the environment.”

Wicklum also made reference to the current economic climate and the commitment of member companies towards the environment during these times. That commitment was reiterated during a panel discussion with Shareholder Steering Committee (SSC) representatives Rebecca Nadel of Shell and Craig Stenhouse of Cenovus.

“We can say without a doubt, that environmental performance is always top of mind,” said Nadel. “Our business needs to be economically and environmentally sustainable. In today’s world, our social license is very dependent on that.”

Stenhouse added that while all companies have had to tighten their financial belts, COSIA has offered an opportunity for them to identify efficiencies and leverage their assets. “We are able to leverage the studies and projects conducted within each Environmental Priority Area (EPA) and we now have access to millions of dollars of scientific data to identify gaps and help solve problems,” said Stenhouse.

Attendees at the Innovation Summit had the opportunity to attend sessions on COSIA’s four EPAs: Land, Water, Tailings and Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) as well as COSIA’s Monitoring Priority Area. Days two and three also featured sessions dedicated to exploring the concept of innovation. Poster sessions were held each evening to allow more focused discussions with the many members, Associate Members and academics who were invited to display their innovations.

On April 1, a Caribou forum was held by the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement. Though the event was held independently of the Innovation Summit, it included a presentation by Devon on behalf of the Land EPA’s Caribou Working Group.

Expand the sections below to learn more about the innovative work presented in each of the streams:

2015 Innovation Summit – Tailings EPA

Tailings ponds, perhaps more than any other environmental issue in the oil sands sector, are responsible for driving perceptions on the industry.

They are formed by oil sands mining operators storing the by-products of their operations, primarily sands, silts, clays and hydrocarbon residues mixed with water. The volume of tailings is growing, as is their collective surface area.

Jonathan Mathews, Tailings EPA Director helped set the scene by highlighting the Tailings Environmental Priority Area Aspiration, to “strive to transform tailings from waste into a resource that speeds land and water reclamation”. At the heart of this issue is the ability to reduce the water content of a substance found in Tailings ponds, namely Mature Fines Tailings (MFT) – a substance that has a consistency of thick mud. Left to its own devises this MFT can take tens if not hundreds of years to consolidate to an extent where the tailings storage sites can be reclaimed.

The key challenge outlined by those in the room was, how can this process be accelerated so mining operators can speed the place of reclamation?

Ward Wilson, Chair of the NSERC/COSIA Industrial Research Chair (IRC) in Oil Sands Tailings Geotechnique helped kick off the proceedings by highlighting the areas of focus within his research team. The IRC program provides Alberta’s oil sands industry, its regulators and consultants with novel technologies to measure the effectiveness of current tailings remediation efforts and new and innovative processes for reducing the amount of post-production tailings.

A number of specific technologies were then outlined in more detail by several speakers. For example, an update was given on Accelerated Dewatering where flocculants are added to tailings to aid in their dewatering. A process called electro-kinetic separation which uses electricity to help tailings separate from water was also discussed.

The stream was concluded with a presentation by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development’s Andy Ridge who provided an outline on Alberta’s new Tailings Management Framework, which sets the overarching expectations for the creation, treatment and reclamation of tailings. The framework puts an emphasis on innovation and extensive monitoring to manage and reduce oil sands tailings.

COSIA 2015 Innovation Summit - Water EPA

COSIA’s Water Environmental Priority Area (EPA) Director John Brogly announced the Mining Performance Goal for the first time during the 2015 Innovation Summit. The goal, to reduce the net water use intensity from the Athabasca River and its tributaries by 30 per cent by 2022, is COSIA’s second Water Performance Goal. The in situ goal (to reduce freshwater use intensity by 50 per cent by 2022) was announced in 2014.

“The release of these goals does realize part of the vision when COSIA was launched three years ago,” said Brogly. “COSIA’s charter, signed by all of the CEOs makes the commitment to report publicly on how these efforts to accelerate the pace of environmental performance through collaboration and innovation are progressing.”

The announcement kicked off the Water EPA presentations, which were divided into two common themes, in situ and mining.

In Situ presentations included boiler blowdown reduction technologies (BBRT), an engineering study initiated by BP and Imperial Oil that assessed and compared various once-through steam generator (OTSG) blowdown reduction schemes for steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) facilities and identified two (rifled tubes and blowdown boilers) that simultaneously reduced water use intensity, GHG intensity, blowdown volumes, capital and operating costs. Another presentation was on Devon Canada’s rifle tube technology, which was a commercial-scale pilot to increase steam quality in the operation of OTSG at its Jackfish 2 site and provide commercial-scale evidence of supporting the BBRT study.

Mining presentations included Shell’s Demonstration Pit Lakes project, which builds on the experiences gained at Syncrude’s Base Mine Lake, the first pit lake to be built in the oil sands. Pit lakes play a central role in the end of life mine reclamation plans for all oil sands mining operators. The presentation provided information on design and operational considerations. Suncor presented on a sustainable water management framework for oil sands mining, and also more specifically on the Regional Water Management Initiative. In addition, Syncrude offered a presentation on using petroleum coke to treat oil sands process-affected water (OSPW).

During the day’s Water discussions, Brogly indicated that since the Water EPA’s inception, 171 water technologies have been shared by the members of the EPA, worth $232 million. In 2014, 12 new projects were launched and 43 remained active.

COSIA 2015 Innovation Summit - Land EPA

COSIA’s Land Environmental Priority Area (EPA) successfully completed nine projects last year and is focusing its efforts in 2015 on continued research and scientific data collection, according to Land EPA Director Dr. Jenna Dunlop.

“In the Land EPA, we work in a slightly different way. We are not necessarily looking for a piece of technology but trying to do difficult things faster or more successfully than we’ve done before,” said Dr. Dunlop. “Our goal going forward is to continue evaluating projects to make sure they are high value and contribute to filling our innovation and knowledge gaps.”

Since the EPA’s creation, a total of 365 Land technologies have been shared, worth $130 million. There were 117 active projects in the Land portfolio in 2014. One of the key 2014 achievements noted by Dr. Dunlop was having a COSIA project (Algar Restoration) recognized with an Emerald Award.

Identified gaps in the Land EPA include reducing overall footprint/reducing operating footprint intensity; functional wetlands and aquatic systems; integrated landscape reconstruction/progressive reclamation; and understanding caribou.

One of the key themes in the Summit’s Land EPA presentations was the focus on caribou conservation. Dr. Stan Boutin from the University of Alberta spoke on the Alberta Biodiversity Conservation Chairs Program. Along side the COSIA Innovation Summit, a half day caribou workshop was held on April 1 in which several speakers focused on four key areas of caribou conservation:

  • Linear deactivation
  • Linear restoration of habitat
  • Maternal penning
  • Predator fencing

During the Caribou forum, Cenovus Energy presented on its Linear Deactivation (LiDea) program, while Devon presented at the Summit on its Regional Industry Caribou Collaboration (RICC) project. Also related to caribou conservation, the University of Alberta presented on landscape restoration planning.

Meanwhile, Alberta Innovates provided a presentation on optimizing recovery of locally-relevant, self-sustaining wildlife habitat and wildlife communities. The suggested approach being an emulation of structure and composition of natural systems including vegetation and physical structures.

Other highlights of the Summit’s Land EPA stream included a presentation from Imperial Oil on the Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative and the merits of coordinating the collection and banking of seeds for future use. The purpose of this project is to help ensure a consistent, constant and diverse supply of seeds are collected and propagated for use in reclamation programs.

COSIA 2015 Innovation Summit - GHG EPA

COSIA and its member companies recognize the challenge in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the industry, and GHG EPA Director Wayne Hillier introduced a full day of sessions aimed at this important issue during the Innovation Summit.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Hillier. “It will take time and resources to make progress.”

Progress began in 2014 with 13 completed projects and a total of 26 projects launched, according to Hillier. He also referenced a number of milestones for the EPA: the development of the mining project portfolio, the initiation of the “Fill the Technology Funnel” strategy that entails leveraging COSIA’s Associate Member program, the release of eight challenge statements and a wide assortment of GHG focused abstracts for the Innovation Summit.

The first stream of GHG presentations focused on innovative approaches to discovering new technologies for oil sands mining operations, including Teck Resources’ initiative project to retrofit a pilot fleet of six haul trucks to run on a natural gas fumigation (bifuel) system. Suncor presented on its Regional Energy Mapping project which is intended to enable the use of previously wasted energy among multiple companies to reduce overall regional energy usage and GHG emissions.

The second stream focused on innovative low or no carbon technologies for in situ oil sands production, like Cenovus’ molten carbonate fuel cell technology that captures carbon dioxide from flue gas and uses it to generate electrical energy. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd presented on a study currently underway to identify and investigate new natural gas decarbonization technologies and how they can be used to as fuel for steam generation in steam assisted gravity drainage facilities.

COSIA 2015 Innovation Summit – Monitoring

“My role as Director of Monitoring at COSIA is focused on how the $50 million in industry funding provided to the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring Program (JOSM) is used,” said Kelly Munkittrick, COSIA Director of Monitoring and Risk Assessment. “What, where, how are they monitoring? What does the data say? How should industry respond (in terms of monitoring)? And, how can we restructure other industry monitoring so it aligns with JOSM? The goal being, to develop a system that provides actionable results for industry to use to improve environmental performance in the oil sands.”

The COSIA Monitoring Group’s agenda for the 2015 Innovation Summit focused on showcasing other monitoring programs and approaches from Alberta, Canada and around the world. Presentations included an overview of several large monitoring programs, similar in scale to JOSM’s spending, including Coastal California’s Regional Sediment monitoring program and Central Valley, California’s Regional Air Monitoring Program. The presentations focused on challenges to getting large scale regional monitoring in place, and attendees were able to understand what the significant barriers to success were, how these were overcome, as well as some of the key lessons that were learned along the way. COSIA’s own Tim Arciszewski presented on Australia’s approach to adaptive monitoring which focuses on developing a monitoring system around well-defined, tractable questions and using data it provides to guide future monitoring decisions.

COSIA 2015 Innovation Summit - Innovation

Days two and three of COSIA’s Innovation Summit featured a presentation stream dedicated to Innovation. This stream gave attendees the opportunity to not only learn about the technological innovations COSIA’s members are developing, but also learn how their own organizations could become more innovative.

“This was a great opportunity for both COSIA and non COSIA attendees to understand what it takes to be innovative and learn more about what they can do to encourage innovation, individually and within their organizations,” says Dan Wicklum, COSIA Chief Executive.

Presentations ranged in topic from the types of innovation possible within an organization, to the conditions required to promote innovation within society. Presenters were brought in from a number of prominent organizations including Deloitte, Sustainable Prosperity, Nine Sigma and the Canadian Water Network.

A number of different approaches to innovation were discussed. Deloitte provided an overview of the types of innovation and the importance of developing business systems to promote innovation within an organization, as well as new ways to engage customers, in addition to more traditional technology innovations. Failing Forward focused on the importance of failure in innovation, how to manage risk and the need for individuals to view failure as part of the innovation process, as opposed to roadblocks to it. NineSigma provided practical examples on how to harness the wisdom of the crowd and a more open business culture to achieve breakthroughs in performance.

While the sessions varied in their approaches and strategies to promoting innovation, there were a number of themes that resonated across all the presentations. These included the need for industry and government to innovate in order to adapt to changing environmental and economic realities; the importance of putting structures in place within an organization to support innovation; and, the need for private and public sectors to work collaboratively when it comes to solving issues related to climate change.



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