From the oilfield to the office, new technologies are changing the industry

An “evolve or dissolve” approach is disrupting the oil and gas industry as companies across all sub-sectors — exploration and production (E&P), oil sands, oil and gas services and pipelines — embrace new technologies to increase profitability and competitiveness.  
Spending is being redirected from growth-oriented capital projects to productivity and efficiency investments, like digitization, to reduce costs and increase value. The primary benefit of adopting new technologies is the cost savings achieved through greater efficiency, better quality and control, improved predictability, increased safety and continuous operations. Innovative technologies can also improve environmental performance — a key focus of industry’s environment, social and governance (ESG) commitments. 

Did you know?

Oil and gas CEOs named technological advances as the top global trend that has transformed their business the most within the last five years, a trend likely to continue.

Source: PWC Canada CEO Survey (2019)

For example, E&P companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors to remotely monitor sites in real-time, allowing workers (or AI) to view activity from a control centre. Fewer in-person site checks mean fewer risks and less “windshield time” which, in turn, reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because there aren’t as many vehicles on the road.  Pipeline companies like TC Energy are using digitization, include a four-dimensional inspection tool on a tablet to record inspection data during pipeline construction. This real-time reporting of data allows for early identification and resolution of non-compliance issues; more efficient access to inspection data for audit and regulatory purposes and project reporting; and more efficient completion of inspection forms through automation and standardization. 

Companies across all of the industry’s sub-sectors are using monitoring technology to detect leaks and gather data on where their GHG emissions are coming from — then using that intelligence to develop emissions reduction plans. For example, Shell Canada has lessened GHG emissions by 91% at its natural gas wells in northeastern British Columbia using electric-powered valves. Many of the leading-edge emissions leak detection, quantification and mitigation technologies are being developed and deployed by Canadian cleantech companies, generating indirect jobs from industry activity

We continue to make structural changes to our business to increase our cost competitiveness… This includes…enhancing our use of technology and data to make our operations safer, more reliable and efficient; and investing strategically in sustainability initiatives that foster overall improvements to our environmental performance, both for the present and as we look to the future.

Mark Little, President and CEO, Suncor Energy (2020 Annual Report) 

Workforce impacts 

These innovations will create a shift in the skills and competencies required for workers to be successful. And, while digitization and automation will decrease the need for some occupations, it will transform others. For example, the “digital oilfield” is decreasing the need for people in the field as site monitoring can be done remotely. Workers can instead focus on higher value and efficient work, such as visiting only the sites indicating abnormal operations. 

Technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning could reduce the oil and gas workforce by up to 30% and automate 50% of job competencies in the upstream sector in the next 20 years.  
– Source: EY Canada (2020) Rethinking the Oil and Gas Workforce in 2040 

And, while the transition does not mean everyone needs to learn computer code, all occupations will likely be impacted by digitization in some way — whether it is increased use of mobile devices and software, interpreting data, or combining business and technical intelligence with visualization tools to provide insights. 

Demand for workers who can tackle complex problems, who understand the regulatory and compliance implications of their decisions, and who are comfortable with technology is expected to grow. Information technology-related roles, like data scientists, cybersecurity analysts and automated systems technicians and technologists are forecasted to be among the top occupations companies will hire across all of the sub-sectors. To support the transition, companies are already hiring new staff and/or training up existing staff.  

An Evolving Supply Chain Ecosystem: To implement their digital and automation ambitions, companies are partnering with outside providers to evolve their supply chain beyond their typical procurement providers. This has created business and indirect employment opportunities both for large, established tech leaders like Microsoft, IBM and Amazon, and smaller tech start-ups like Calgary-based AI developer Ambyient and pipeline digital twin innovator Lux Modus

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