CRIN aims spotlight at digital technologies with events and technology competition

If there is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has made readily apparent, it is the importance of digital technology to run our economy and enhance our wellbeing. It enabled millions of workers to swiftly move from their offices to the homes to conduct business and others to adapt to remote operations. It permitted connectivity with our families, remote retailing for our day-to-day needs, not to mention home entertainment to ease the strain of prolonged lockdowns.

In the oil and gas industry, digital technology adoption has been underway for decades. But digital technologies are a rapidly advancing field, and the petroleum industry is harnessing new digital innovation to improve safety, reduce environmental impact and increase competitiveness.

The Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN) and the Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) are helping to facilitate the industry's digital transformation. CRIN is an industry-led "network of networks", leveraging the oil and gas industry’s strengths in large-scale industrial collaboration by aligning research and technology priorities, addressing gaps and incenting innovation. PTAC is an industry association that is focused on facilitating the introduction of new technologies and has a long history of supporting innovation in all sectors of hydrocarbon energy.

Digital oil and gas is one of CRIN’s seven major technology themes. Further adoption of digital technologies is expected to improve industry economics and competitiveness, reduce greenhouse gas intensity, and reduce the industry’s water and land footprint. Other CRIN technology themes include water technology; novel land and wellsite remediation; low emissions value added products; methane monitoring, quantification and abatement; cleaner fuels and reducing carbon intensity; and novel hydrocarbon extraction.

CRIN, a pan-Canadian organization with over 1,600 members, will host the first co-branded Digital Spotlight event on Oct. 29. The event will bring together some of the most prominent technology-focused centres of excellence in Alberta to work with the energy sector: the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), the AltaML Applied AI Lab, the Alberta IoT Association and the SAIT School for Advanced Digital Technology.

Amii recently received a $5 million grant from the government of Alberta's Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) system for its REMI (Reducing Emissions through Machine Intelligence) program that enables companies to leverage novel applications of artificial intelligence for projects that will have a measurable impact on emissions reduction in Alberta. Also, in the fall of 2019, Imperial Oil and Amii announced a two-year agreement to collaborate on the development of in-house machine learning capabilities to enable effective recovery of oil and gas resources, reduction in environmental impact and improvements in safety of its workforce.

The AltaML Applied AI Lab (the “AI Lab”) is an industry-led initiative with the goal to accelerate artificial intelligence and machine learning skill development in Calgary. Over the course of three years, approximately 240 paid interns will gain hands-on exposure and experience working with real-world use cases, data and industry partners. In partnership with Spartan Controls, Suncor Energy Inc., ATB Financial, TransAlta Corporation and the support of Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF), the AI Lab builds on and expands the strength in the field, creating a talent pipeline that will add significant capacity to Calgary’s digital innovation ecosystem. The first cohort received over 550 applications and launched on Oct. 1, with eight interns.

In September 2020, OCIF also announced its support of the SAIT School for Advanced Digital Technology. The new school has been established as the digital experience hub to digital technology learning. Its vision is to be a catalyst for industry, technology and education to provide future-proof skills for the workforce of today and tomorrow. The intent is to provide the workforce with a growth mindset, entrepreneurial skills and resilience to adapt to a continually evolving world.

Alberta IoT is a not-for-profit association consisting of organizations with a vested interest in the success of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the province of Alberta. Its goal is to bring national awareness of Alberta IoT and emerging technologies and to foster and build partnerships across the Alberta IoT ecosystem to support the economic development of Canada.

Digital Spotlight participants attending the Oct. 29 event will learn about the resourcing this digital ecosystem has available to innovators, corporations and others looking to sophisticate their digital activations. They will learn more about how to structure their thinking to drive toward quick wins (cost/time efficiencies/risk mitigation) and how the centres are set up within the ecosystem to help master what’s often called “data engineering,” so as to optimize data capture and make best use of the captured information.

Speakers for the Digital Spotlight event will include Andrew Noseworthy, the assistant deputy minister (Clean Technologies) with Industry, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Canada, Government of Canada and senior advisor to the president (Energy and Strategic Initiatives) with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency; Mark Schaan, assistant deputy minister (Digital Innovation) at ISED; and a representative from the Government of Alberta.

CRIN and PTAC have established seven main digitalization challenges (below) which are the foundation for the upcoming Digital Spotlight events. CRIN also anticipates the launch of a $5 million competition in the next few months for digital innovation projects to meet those challenges, said Jeff LaFrenz, CRIN digital oil and gas technology theme leader.

LaFrenz said that while digital technology is a theme area unto itself, the technology permeates CRIN's other technology theme areas as well. “Although it’s an area in its own right, and there are things that are uniquely digital, it essentially crosscuts everything else the industry does. This is seen within CRIN — every theme has some digital aspects to it," said LaFrenz, who is also founder and president of VizworX Inc.

“It already became clear prior to COVID-19, but COVID-19 highlighted the critical importance of digital infrastructure in managing to keep the industry running and taking it to the next stage. Digital is core to the future of the oil and gas industry and the energy industry more broadly. There is everything from operational efficiency to remote working capability to analysis to presentation, information and decision making — all of this relies upon data that digitalization makes happen. So it’s really core to the operations and future of the industry.”

PTAC has had a digital focus for years, including the hosting of an annual Digital Innovation Forum and several ongoing digitalization projects, said Marc Godin, PTAC Director of Technology. “We have a strong ecosystem of innovators that have new technologies like sensors, more powerful connectivity, drones, autonomous vehicles, analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and so on.”

For example, PTAC is running an unmanned aerial vehicle project with industry partners right now that seeks to advance use of drones both technologically and through regulation, which must be updated to make beyond-visual-line-of-sight operations feasible.

CRIN and PTAC, through their industry led committees, describes the main digital challenges as follows:

  • Environmental monitoring: such as for greenhouse gases, including methane, with sensors and drones, for faster detection and more cost effective mitigation.
  • Health and safety: including measures to deal with the pandemic, as many PTAC members have pivoted to working from home, presenting information technology challenges and opportunities (reduced travel for improved safety, more focus on remote operations).
  • Production automation: such as through the use of sensors and edge computing to perform remote operations more autonomously, reducing the need for operators to be on site, while creating faster response times and optimizing equipment and facility operations.
  • Operating efficiencies: performing predictive maintenance, for example, by monitoring equipment performance and utilizing machine learning to identify patterns and spot anomalies to warn of impending breakdown.
  • Project execution: generally for larger construction projects and turnarounds, which can be optimized with digital technologies like digital twins, augmented and virtual reality, to give companies the ability to view projects in three dimensions and create computer models that can be used to better plan and execute large projects and reduce associated capital costs.
  • Automation and robotics: the use of a variety of smart technologies to improve health and safety and worker empowerment, such as drones and robots to perform high-risk inspections of elevated or remote equipment and facilities with higher frequency and better quality data retrieval, as well as use of digital assistants in the office and use of connected worker technologies in the field with access to augmented reality and connectivity to subject matter experts in real-time.
  • Foundational technologies: including access to cloud computing, data engineering, connectivity, and ubiquitous communications, in order to collect, process, transmit, store, and analyze data at scale.

Nannette Ho-Covernton, Sustainability Leader at Spartan Controls, is the Chair of the Digital Theme Outreach subcommittee, and she is building out the Digital Spotlight event series to engage the Canadian innovation ecosystem in tackling the challenges.

Funding for the event series and upcoming digital competition comes from a $100 million federal government grant over four years from the Strategic Innovation Fund through Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Canada. The focus is to advance clean technologies and environmental performance improvements, to be co-invested with the private sector funds within CRIN.

To register for the event, click here (CRIN: or here (PTAC Interested parties are also invited to become a member of CRIN (no cost) and commit to the social contract as a member of CRIN at to connect with other upcoming CRIN events.

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