CALGARY – Members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance are “doubling down” on sharing their green technologies despite the pinch from low crude oil prices, the group’s boss said Wednesday.
Oilsands firms are sharing about as many different technologies now, with oil below US$50 a barrel, as they were last year, when crude peaked at US$107 a barrel, Dan Wicklum said in an interview.
The aim of COSIA, which was launched in early 2012, is to enable competing oilsands companies to share environmental technologies without running afoul of intellectual property law.
Wicklum said there’s not a big difference between COSIA’s portfolio of active projects this year versus last — 219 compared to 223.
But the number of new projects started is down more sharply — 37 projects worth $23 million this year versus 68 projects worth $200 million as of COSIA’s 2014 performance update.
Under the COSIA model, companies “basically divide the work up” — an attractive proposition from a cost perspective no matter what the oil price is, Wicklum said.
“If it made sense four years ago, it makes more sense now.”
“What I’m hearing from companies is they’re essentially doubling down on the concept of COSIA,” he said.
Brian Ferguson, chief executive of Cenovus Energy — a COSIA member — said his company has had to “throttle back a bit” on research and development spending as part of company-wide cuts, but that continued investment in technology is crucial to the company’s long-term future.
Overall capital spending at Cenovus is down by about 40 per cent this year versus last year.
Cenovus’ research and development spending for 2014 was $125 million — and that doesn’t include the technological improvements that go into day-to-day operations at its flagship Christina Lake and Foster Creek projects in northeastern Alberta.
A figure is not yet available for this year’s R&D spend at Cenovus.
In the oilsands, innovations that reduce the environmental footprint also tend to save money, said Wicklum. That could mean, for example, burning less natural gas and guzzling fewer barrels of water to produce the steam needed to draw bitumen from deep underground.
“There’s an absolute direct correlation very often between cutting costs and environmental performance,” he said.
Also Wednesday, COSIA said its members have made headway on reducing the amount of fresh water needed to produce a barrel of bitumen, though it cautioned it is still early days and results may vary significantly from year to year.
Between 2012 and 2014, it said water use intensity fell by 30 per cent for mining operations and 36 per cent for steam-driven projects — although absolute oilsands production rose over the period.
COSIA said its members are recycling more of the water used in their operations and using more non-potable salty water.
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