Anamika Mukherjee has gained a reputation as someone who contemplates the biggest challenges facing the fossil fuel industry
IN AN INDUSTRY TIGHTLY FOCUSED ON NEAR-SIGHTED tasks such as cutting costs and improving operations, Anamika Mukherjee is thinking far beyond the next decade. As a specialist in technology collaboration at Cenovus Energy, Mukherjee contemplates some of the biggest challenges in the fossil fuel industry—questions like how the industry can achieve zero-emissions oil sands production, or whether it can find non-combustible uses for its product in a market where demand will eventually fade.
At Cenovus, she is responsible for liaising with various internal and external groups in order to clearly map out longterm strategies that will address these challenges. “Everyone knows that the goal is ultimately to have low-cost, low-carbon products, but we need to bring consistent directions to how we’re going to meet our targets,” she says.
Mukherjee’s position represents the changing view toward energy development on the part of major oil producers. Despite a wealth of intellectual capital and massive investment in research and development, Canada’s energy sector can at times seem a bit myopic. But she says there is a growing willingness to think about the broad, existential questions facing the oil and gas sector. “Being in this sector, I’m surrounded by people who believe that we need to get ahead of trends rather than constantly trying to catch up,” she says. “In your specific role, if you’re just looking at the day-to-day, you’re usually not looking beyond that role. And I think someone like me can push you to do that.”
Mukherjee graduated from the University of Calgary with a degree in chemical engineering in 2002. She worked for Jacobs Engineering and Suncor Energy in various roles while she worked on an MBA in global energy management and sustainable development, which she completed in 2010. Early on, she recognized where her strengths were and adjusted her career ambitions to suit them. “When I started my career in process engineering, I quickly realized that I prefer to see the big picture rather than a two-year project,” she says. “I also have always believed that I like to influence [decisions] so that we don’t get caught off guard.”
Today, Mukherjee also leads the company’s efforts in Evok Innovations, a technology fund between Suncor and Cenovus, where she aims to help develop technologies to lower carbon emissions, reduce water usage, limit damage to land and ultimately create a no- to low-emissions product. As an example of the latter, she cites the work of a company currently testing coal degradation, which uses microbes to break down coal into usable products like plastics or polymers. While it is highly speculative, she says, it represents the “direction of thinking” for people who take a long view. “We are in a transitional phase right now,” she says. “We need to explore other options that are either GHG emissions-free or have low GHG emissions. We’re just exploring right now.”