Rising Star Alex Filstein: Oilsands technology inventor, mentor

Alex Filstein is a technology development reservoir engineer with Cenovus Energy. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

In the struggle for investment dollars the oilsands may have lost ground to shale plays, but the industry is putting up a good fight to reduce its production costs and environmental footprint. Technology advances have cut Cenovus Energy’s carbon emissions intensity by a third since 2004. And that is set to drop further if the company’s patented Solvent Driven Process (SDP), currently in piloting, sees wider field implementation.

There’s no shortage of ideas for cutting costs and emissions in the oilsands, but only a few of them make it into the field. This one is a $20 million field demonstration, with $2 million of backing from Alberta Innovates and $7.525 million from NRCAN. Alex Filstein is the inventor of SDP.

“It’s a very amazing experience when you have an idea or concept in your mind and then you work hard to develop it and, in two years, you see it in the field implemented and working,” says the Israeli transplant.

Alex Filstein is one of the Fluor/Oilweek 2018 Rising Stars. To read all of their stories, click here.

How SDP differs from solvent-assisted SAGD, which is also being tested by industry, is that SDP is predominantly solvent injection. That Cenovus advanced SDP to field trials in less than two years is a testament to the industry’s need for reduced costs and improved environmental performance, Cenovus’ commitment to technology advancement and Filstein’s unique skill set.

Recruited straight out of the University of Calgary, Filstein put his B.Sc. in geomatics engineering to work for Cenovus in 2011. This information-technology discipline deals with the acquisition, modelling, analysis and management of spatial data—systems engineering.

Filstein trained and supported Cenovus engineers on the company’s reservoir simulator, which helps resolve issues in developing assets and optimizing existing operations. It also aids in developing new pilot projects.

“What reservoir simulation tools provide is an initial understanding,” Filstein says. “We were able to come up with the scenarios that we’re currently testing.”

Filstein’s expertise makes him a valuable resource and mentor within Cenovus and across the industry. He recently presented at the Solvent Leadership Series, an Alberta Innovates forum, to an audience of Canada’s major oil producers. He also finds satisfaction in helping junior engineers and students achieve their goals.

For the last four years, he has been involved in SAIT Petroleum Technology’s Capstone Project. This interdisciplinary course develops the ability of students to think strategically about energy asset management.

“At SAIT, students have a final project that I mentor them on. I try to have them see and understand the current challenges and the status of our industry,” he says. “I deal with international students as well, which is very rewarding to see people coming here from all over the world. It was their dream to work in oil and gas and to be in Canada and to be part of something like this. So its satisfying to see them actually work on projects that matter and that could potentially make a difference to the industry.”

Education: B.Sc., Geomatics Engineering, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary, 2011

Favourite charities: Autism and cancer-associated charities

First job: Military service

If not for your career, what would you be doing: I’d be an entrepreneur because I’m passionate about developing innovative, scalable and impactful technologies. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of Cenovus’s technology development team that advances new technologies with the potential to enhance environmental and economic performance.

Best advice received: “Daddy, first you say what you will do, and then you just go and do it.” – My son Noah when he was five.

Favourite pastime: Spending time with my wife and three kids, family and friends. Also interested in travelling, financial markets, technology and sports.

Favourite book: Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, 1923, by Edwin Lefèvre (biography of Jesse Livermore)

Other interests/passions: I’m fascinated by the work of Dr. Daniel Kahneman/Dr. Amos Tversky and Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer in behavioural economics relating to the psychology of judgment and decision-making. I also collect 1858-1921 “fish scale” silver Canadian five-cent coins.

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