Carbon-capture, unconventional-well completion systems, and remote-monitoring equipment will be the technologies in biggest demand within the oilpatch in coming months, predict energy and technology industry insiders.
They made the comments in wake of the Global Petroleum Show, which attracted 60,000 delegates from 90 countries to Calgary in search of thousands of technologies that were on display from June 10-12.
"Carbon capture and storage is probably the biggest thing we're looking for," says Dave Pryce, vice-president of Western Canada operations for the Calgary-based Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
As several oilsands projects prepare to come onstream in the next few years, Ottawa and most provinces are in the process of implementing tougher rules and taxes around carbon dioxide emissions.
Pryce says public and regulatory pressures on greenhouse gas-emission reduction and well reclamation, whereby companies clean up wellsites that are no longer in use, are pushing the industry like never before.
"The demand is much higher for new innovations, because we're constantly looking for continued improvement, so we need to be ratcheting our skills around reduction of footprint impacts," Pryce says.
He says producers are very attuned to the technological challenges that they face, and are relying on engineering and technical innovators to build advances.
"What we need to do is make sure that we've got an interface mechanism between the suppliers of these new technologies and the companies' reps that are buying them."
Pryce says events like the Global Petroleum Show and groups such as the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC) offer that opportunity as well.
Research centres and so-called "centres of excellence" are often located at universities "and they each provide their unique aspect of that (innovation), whether it's innovative research or new technology, ground-proofing or full-scale commercial implementation. We need all of those to make things work in concert."
CAPP has repeatedly backed the development of new technologies rather than tighter regulation through such imposed mechanisms like the Kyoto protocol, emission-reduction rules and other governmental guidelines.
"We've said all along that technology is the key to advancing on most of these issues," says Pryce. "They're big issues and they require big, broad solutions. Technology - and investment in technology - is critical at this point."
Discussion around new technology often raises concerns about costs, although current high oil and gas prices can negate the financial impact. But Gary Leach, executive director of the Calgary-based Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (SEPAC), says his group's members are constantly looking for new technologies.
Leach says unconventional gas-well completion technologies are in high demand these days, and will have a big impact in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, where conventional reserves are declining.
Recent technological breakthroughs that allow better access to tight and shale-gas formations have spurred high prices at land sales - whereby firms purchase mineral rights rather than the actual property - in recent months in northeastern B.C.
"That kind of technology has the potential to unlock many billions worth of reserves," Leach says. "Those (technologies) are starting to be applied now.
"Some of them are being imported from the States. It's really going to open a new chapter in the development of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin."
Unconventional well-completion technologies are still in their early stages. But once a company starts using a particular technology, it is quickly adopted throughout the industry.
"A lot of these have been developed here (in Western Canada), because we're not blessed with large oil and gas reserves like the Middle East, for example," he says.
Leach likens the current situation to the development of coalbed methane technology and coiled tubing - metal pipe that can be rolled and unrolled like a garden hose and pushed into a well bore.
He says unconventional well-completion technologies will enable producers to drill more accurately, safely and with better results.
"A lot of the innovation is driven in the service sector, but a lot of it is in collaboration with the exploration and production companies," he says.
He adds most research and development is focused on the exploration side, especially in such areas as seismic and geophysical testing.
Siemens Canada, wholly owned subsidiary of a global parent, manufactures, designs and installs complex electronic and electrical engineering systems for the energy sector and other industries.
The company brought its portable "exiderdome" mobile exhibition to the Calgary event that showcased 130,000 Siemens technologies in a 900-sq.-m structure comprised of 55 shipping containers.
"Everything that we're looking at is around energy saving or productivity, either from automation (of activities) or from power (sources)," says Roger Hallett, director of Siemens Canada's automation and power division.
Most of the technologies are already in use in Canada. In some cases, Siemens is attempting to introduce technologies used elsewhere to the oil and gas sector so that a wider base of customers could see what they do.
Hallett says oil and gas firms can afford the technological changes, and it's a direction that they must take, because they are under pressure to reduce operating costs.
"We do a significant amount of work with the oil companies in Alberta," he says. "A lot of what we're finding or what we're feeling, is that there's a lack of engineering resources. Everyone is under pressure to find good people.
"There are also cost restrictions on executing projects. That really is what we're about, with our automation strategy and our power strategy, being able to offer systems that quickly integrate together, which allow you to execute projects in a quicker fashion than you would do if you were trying to integrate products from multiple manufacturers. That's one of the biggest challenges that we're trying to respond to.”
Hallett adds technologies are already quite advanced in the oilpatch, so it's hard to see an emerging one that will have a major impact.
"What we do see is a trend into wireless communication, especially in automation areas or communication across the internet, or through radio communications between remote sites," he says.
"Everybody is more interested in monitoring performance of equipment, whether it's a pump or a compressor, and more and more of those products are distributed over a wide geographic area."
CAPP's Pryce says the perceived trend ties back to producers' need to reduce their environmental footprint.
"Companies are operating in more remote areas, and they're trying to do it efficiently, but also reduce the traffic in some cases," Pryce says.
(Monte Stewart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)