Over the past two years, low oil and gas prices have challenged the petroleum industry to find ways to enhance productivity and cut costs in order to remain profitable. The industry has increased the use of various technologies to create efficiencies and reduce human error. As a result, in one of Canada’s centenarian industries, there’s been a surge of creativity and innovation.
While prices have stabilized in recent months companies are cautiously optimistic about the future. They recognize they can’t afford to lose the progress made in their productivity improvements. As a result, the future workforce for the Canadian petroleum industry will need to be much more tech-savvy than you might think.
Some of the technologies being piloted or implemented are: autonomous hauling trucks, drilling robotics, data machines and wireless and sensor devices. Each can play a role in increasing efficiencies and reducing safety risks.
Wireless and sensor devices are giving companies the freedom to monitor the temperatures and pressures of wells producing in remote locations. There’s no longer the need to send a worker out to monitor the wells manually. Not only does it save on costs, but it allows producers to stay on top of what’s happening at their various locations.
Data and analytics have always played a large role in the petroleum industry – Geoscience technicians and technologists have worked to gather, process and interpret data in order to plan and evaluate oil and gas reservoirs. Increasingly, computers are being used to do much of the data gathering and processing, leaving the technical professionals to analyze the results and make recommendations.
Not long ago on a drilling rig, there would be 30 rig hands operating pumps. Now, it’s not unusual to have only two workers in a control van – monitoring the automated systems and controlling them with the push of a button. Dangerous work, such as running steel pipe down wellbores used to require four or five workers but can now be done remotely. The introduction of robotics is also improving drilling times, improving safety and reducing costs. Fewer well heads are needed because the more tech-savvy rigs are up to five times more efficient. It’s also creating new roles in IT for workers to monitor operations and troubleshoot problems that come up.
At Suncor’s mining operations near Fort McMurray, the company has been piloting a test fleet of autonomous hauling trucks. With its Fort Hills project starting up later this year, its autonomous fleet could grow to 150 trucks and it expects cost improvements to be between five and 10 percent. The autonomous trucks improve safety, minimize downtime and have lower maintenance costs.
As the Canadian petroleum industry continues to innovate and looks to advance even more technology, we can expect the workforce to require a different skill set, one that’s highly technical. Positions in IT, computer science and software development will also be on the rise. As well, roles that were more hands-on in nature may have more of a technical element to them – whether it’s to help maintain equipment or create new ways to be efficient and productive.