Oil and gas industry slow in adopting new technology

Meagan Hampel, Director of Communications
Iman Bukhari, Communications Specialist


Canadian productivity is in a continuing decline. In 2012, Statistics Canada revealed that Canada was falling behind the USA when it came to labour productivity. But more importantly, it showed that, in the 32 years Stats Canada has been measuring this subject, there has been zero growth in multi-factor productivity (MFP) in Canada – also known as “innovation.”

Much of this can be attributed to Canada being a mainly resource economy, which has continued to grow despite little technical innovation. But there are signs that this way of life may be threatened (the oil dollar is weakening, while new energy resources are springing up around the world). To this end, last week the Canadian Energy Supply Chain Forum partnered with Canada 3.0 to hold a joint conference in Calgary.

Canada 3.0 is an annual digital media conference focused on the commercialization of innovation, and this was its first time being held outside of Toronto. By teaming with the Canadian Energy Supply Chain, the organization was hoping to bring together leaders in both the energy and technology sector to discuss innovation for oil and gas. Cybera sponsored and attended, and unfortunately, we were a little disappointed with the rate of change being demonstrated.

The conference started off well. Rob Tasker of TRTech and Tom Jenkins of OpenText spoke about the digital revolution taking place now with data management and transmission tools (and the amazing potential of big data and the Internet of Things). On the other side of the spectrum, Suzanne West movingly described her moment of realization that the oil and gas sector needed to become more environmentally responsible. She has created a new company, Imaginea, to work towards that goal. Dawn Farrell of TransAlta also did a great job describing the specific technological issues that her company could use some innovative digital support with (for example, a better system of monitoring their giant boilers for minute cracks).

After that, unfortunately, the conference became a traditional oil and gas event, with discussions of using virtual reality to train crane operators, and the use of online forms for entering in order information. In other words: it fell back into discussing technologies that were developed for this industry 20 years ago.

This seems to be the crux of the problem: the oil and gas sector is still too slow in adopting new ideas, and heavily resistant to any change. Other industries have gone fully digital but the oil patch has yet to follow along. Why is it not embracing tablet devices and connectivity tools for sending and receiving accurate information from the oil fields sooner? Why are energy companies not sharing data on their environmental processes, to create new understandings and better efficiencies for developing – and protecting – the natural resources?

And why did participants of this event receive a heavy cloth tote bag filled with information about the event, participants and the booths? They could have easily given each participant digital copies through a flash drive or linked to an online cloud storage instead.

In May 2013, the Centre for the Study of Living Standards (CSLS) did a study showing that, while most business sectors in North America increased their investment in information and communications technology between 1996-2006, the mining, oil and gas extraction sectors showed huge declines in investment (-16.7%). If this industry is to survive any further into the 21st century, it needs to start showing that it can at least keep up with every other modern sector, if not surpass them, when it comes to embracing new technologies.

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