Driv­ing the next wave of clean re­source in­no­va­tion

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY BILL WHITELAW Bill Whitelaw is pres­i­dent and CEO at June-War­ren-Nickle’s En­ergy Group.

The en­ergy in­dus­try loves its acronyms.

It’s only par­tially a joke that if you don’t hear a new acro­nym by 10 a.m., make one up and get it into cir­cu­la­tion be­fore lunch.

But there’s an im­por­tant new acro­nym: CRIN, or Clean Re­source In­no­va­tion Net­work.

It has no ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, pres­i­dent or staff. It has no ad­dress or let­ter­head. No one has a CRIN busi­ness card. You won’t find it with a Google search. But it’s a net­work in the truest sense. And its chal­lenges are sig­nif­i­cant and am­bi­tious. Its ob­jec­tives will pos­i­tively re­shape the way Cana­di­ans think about en­ergy. And it will help the oil and gas sec­tor over­come so­cio-po­lit­i­cal bar­ri­ers that frus­trate its at­tempts to build cred­i­bil­ity with an in­creas­ingly dis­en­gaged and dis­il­lu­sioned pop­u­la­tion.

CRIN’s man­date is to do what no one has done: syn­chro­nize the di­verse clean-re­source in­no­va­tion nodes.

CRIN can de­fine the term ‘clean re­sources.’ The no­tion of clean re­source devel­op­ment too of­ten con­jures up the con­verse: if this is clean, some­thing else must be dirty.

But re­source clean­li­ness exists. We just haven’t been very good at defin­ing that evolv­ing clean­li­ness. Be­ing clean in en­ergy means to be con­stantly mov­ing to­ward ever-cleaner goals.

The proof dates back years. The re­sources sec­tor is now drilling far­ther and faster hor­i­zon­tally and di­rec­tion­ally than ever be­fore, with ac­cu­racy.

It’s chal­leng­ing just to keep track of the oil­sands in­no­va­tion; from ad­vances in hy­dro­trans­porta­tion of bi­tu­men to in­cred­i­ble achieve­ments in ther­mal re­cov­ery that in­clude en­hanced sol­vent-based re­cov­ery and elec­tro­mag­netic reser­voir heat­ing. New pro­cesses re­duce emis­sions and pro­duce up­graded prod­uct on site.

The hun­dreds of achieve­ments add up to global lead­er­ship in ever-cleaner hy­dro­car­bon pro­duc­tion that pos­i­tively im­pacts air, water and land dy­nam­ics.

So why don’t the pub­lic, politi­cians and ac­tivists know? Why aren’t they point­ing with pride to oil and gas as an in­no­va­tion sys­tem that fu­els our econ­omy and way of life? Why don’t post-sec­ondary stu­dents con­sider en­ergy ca­reers? Why are in­vestors of­ten skit­tish about fos­sil-fuel op­por­tu­ni­ties?

Be­cause the in­dus­try hasn’t told the story well.

CRIN can change that. It can of­fer a com­pelling clean en­ergy per­spec­tive that touches on eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, com­mu­nity build­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity. And CRIN can make the in­dus­try more at­trac­tive to in­vestors, as a coun­ter­bal­ance to the anti-oil nar­ra­tives of dirty en­ergy.

CRIN has a steer­ing com­mit­tee and var­i­ous sub com­mit­tees to co-or­di­nate and de­velop its ac­tiv­i­ties. The tal­ent on those groups is drawn from the Cana­dian Oil Sands In­no­va­tion Al­liance, Pe­tro­leum Tech­nol­ogy Al­liance Canada, En­ergy Fu­tures Lab and In­no­vate Cal­gary, to name a few. There are also lead­ing com­pa­nies (Cana­dian Nat­u­ral Re­sources, Cen­ovus and Sun­cor, for ex­am­ple) and af­fil­i­ated agen­cies in­volved.

CRIN’s net­work in­clude govern­ments and agen­cies, post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions, cor­po­ra­tions, in­vestors and eco­nomic devel­op­ment au­thor­i­ties. It has em­braced the in­no­va­tion com­mu­ni­ties that typ­i­cally stay apart from legacy cor­po­ra­tions and or­ga­ni­za­tions. This cre­ates con­nec­tions be­tween ex­perts and tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies look­ing to gain trac­tion within Canada’s en­ergy tran­si­tion.

CRIN also de­lib­er­ately seeks not to du­pli­cate ex­ist­ing in­no­va­tion ef­forts. Its goal is to spur in­no­va­tion at a pace only made pos­si­ble through lev­er­ag­ing ex­ist­ing ca­pac­ity.

We know that to­day’s en­ergy clean­li­ness is not to­mor­row’s clean­li­ness. Nor should it be.

CRIN’s first ma­jor step is to tap into the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­no­va­tion fund­ing an­nounced in the March bud­get. Its let­ter of in­tent will be sub­mit­ted this week, along with sim­i­lar applications from other sec­tors. By fall, it will know if it’s suc­cess­ful. If Ot­tawa is se­ri­ous about clean en­ergy of all types un­der­pin­ning Canada’s eco­nomic fu­ture, the bu­reau­crats and politi­cians pulling the levers would do well to learn about CRIN and its po­ten­tial.

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