- Outlook 2021-2023
The Energy Transition: The Clean Energy Opportunity
From pipelines that transport hydrogen to emissions management, Canada’s oil and gas industry is investing in low-carbon alternatives
Consumers, investors and workers and are looking to energy companies to help pave the way to a low-carbon future through managing their own emissions, environmental footprint and adopting lower carbon fuels, and, to help their customers, contractors and communities do the same.
Many Canadian companies have set goals to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. This means they will either produce no emissions or offset them through actions such as tree planting or employing technologies that capture carbon before it is released in the air.
…. the addition of net-zero carbon targets… It’s forced companies to think more deeply about what the future will be like and how different the future will be… The adoption of these (climate) targets of 2050 and net-zero carbon — and then the attitudes of investors and how that has become part of the outlook of many investors — is something all managements are having to deal with.
Daniel Yergin, American author, speaker, energy expert and economic historian
Many Canadian oil and gas companies are investing in initiatives to improve the environmental performance of their operations, while also making investments in lower carbon energy as well as consumer products and services that align with their core business. Suncor, for example, is a partner in four wind farms and a major investor in a biofuels company and a company developing cleaner aviation fuel. It has also built a cross-Canada network of more than 50 fast-charging electric vehicle (EV) chargers through its Petro-Canada™ stations. These stations are positioned no further than 250 kilometres apart ensuring that an EV charging station is within range on Canada’s Electric Highway™, thereby eliminating one of the significant barriers to EV adoption.
Pipelines and oil and gas services companies are expanding to include alternative energy sources as well. For example, pipeline companies like Enbridge are expanding their product mix to include lower carbon forms of energy such as hydrogen, and are improving their environmental performance by using digital leak detection technologies to decrease response time and improve predictive analytics. Oil and gas services companies meanwhile are deploying their workforces, equipment and technology on geothermal projects, while their use of multi-pad drilling and self-walking rigs contributes to fewer trucks on the road, lower emissions and a smaller environmental footprint.
The oil and gas industry is the largest spender on cleantech in Canada. Cleantech innovations depend on pooling scientific brainpower, research and resources through joint ventures, collaboration and partnerships — like Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, Clean Resource Innovation Network and Emissions Reduction Alberta — alongside cleantech accelerators like Avatar Innovations Inc. and funding competitions through Alberta Innovates and Innovation Saskatchewan. They also depend on provincial and federal government policy and program incentives to support the energy transition, as market forces on their own are not enough. Government-funded programs are in place for methane abatement and hydrogen.
Looking beyond traditional oil and gas activities, “energy-adjacent sectors” are also growing as Canada strives to be a leader in low-carbon energy development. These sectors include:
- Renewables—Canada, with its large landmass and diversified geography, has substantial renewable resources (like wind and solar) which can be used to produce electricity.
- Liquefied natural gas (LNG)— The development of an LNG sector represents a game-changing opportunity for Canada’s natural gas industry, including the ability to tap into new, international markets with surplus production to meet growing global demand. At least five LNG projects on the west and east coasts of Canada have been proposed with LNG Canada in British Columbia furthest along and under construction.
- Hydrogen—According to Clean Energy Canada, Canada ranks among the top 10 global hydrogen producers with about three million tonnes of hydrogen produced annually for industrial use — approximately 4% of the global total. The federal and provincial governments have announced strategies, including fiscal incentives, to spur the development of a hydrogen industry in Canada, estimated at $1 billion in potential.
- Geothermal energy— It is estimated the development of a Canadian geothermal industry could create over 5,000 new jobs for displaced oil and gas drilling contractors and oilfield service workers, as many of the skills are transferable.
- Carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS)—CCUS contributes both to reducing emissions directly and removing CO2, a critical part of net-zero goals. CCUS is valuable to many greenhouse gas (GHG)-emitting industries. Canadian CCUS companies are currently working on ways to use carbon to create cleaner fuels and methods to strengthen concrete and steel.
So, what does all this mean for Canada’s energy workforce? Canada’s oil and gas human capital will be a huge advantage for transitioning the energy system as the underlying technical skills required to extract, develop, produce, process and export oil and gas are transferable to different forms of energy, such as wind, solar, biomass and LNG.
For example, well drilling, completions and servicing expertise is required for geothermal development; predictive maintenance talent is required for solar, wind, hydrogen, LNG and biofuels; and emissions measurement, reduction and reporting skills are required for all forms of cleantech, petrochemicals manufacturing, biofuels and LNG.
Likewise, evolving corporate practices mean energy companies are not only building environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics into all their activities, but ensuring their organizational structures include the roles and responsibilities required to create, measure, monitor and report these metrics to stakeholders, including regulators. These include roles in environment, safety, community/stakeholder relations, regulatory, government affairs and sustainability. PetroLMI’s Labour Market Outlook 2021 to 2023: Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry shows an increase in these occupations across all oil and gas industry sub-sectors.
The market returns of clean energy technology companies are a self perpetuating mechanism for attracting investor capital. Government policies will skew toward more encouragement, but increasingly it will be corporations and their investors that fund the next wave of decarbonization
Peter Tertzakian, Deputy Director of the ARC Energy Research Institute