Future in Focus: How CNRL is Using Innovation to Reduce Operational Cost and Risk


By: Joy Romero

To start, Joy can you tell us a little bit about what operational excellence means to CNRL and how your role as Vice President of Technology and Innovation fits into that?

Like many companies, Canadian Natural has been on a journey towards operational excellence for many years, and that means that each year we are striving to get better. We’ve implemented programs like Lean Six Sigma and 4dx across our company to drive efficiency and accountability.

As we continue on our journey to be the best that we can be, that means that we are continuously changing. As Vice President of Technology and Innovation, my team is accountable for the systems that are in place to support people in executing innovation across the entire company.

We are helping to company to reduce costs while simultaneously reducing our operating footprint and improving safety, all of which are the basic building block of operational excellence.

Given the current business climate, innovation is more important than ever for the oil and gas industry. How are technologies helping the industry reduce operating cost and operational risk? Which technologies do you see as real game changers?

Our industry has a long history of innovation; we exist because of innovation, so it is definitely part of our culture. There are some really interesting things going on in the technology world to ensure a viable and sustainable oil and gas industry long into Canada’s future. The technologies that both reduce our costs and improve our environmental performance are obvious winners. They are similar to turning the furnace down in your house – you save money and you reduce your environmental footprint. The same kind of thing applies to our operations.

Technologies that are real game changers for us right now focus on what would have been waste and turning it into a revenue stream. We are working with Titanium Corp to take waste water from our tailing stream and recovering any heavy metals. Those metals become titanium and are now products that can be sold. This turns our footprint into a valuable product, and from an environmental point of view, reduces greenhouse gases as well.

We are also looking at a technology that we call In-Pit Extraction with which we can extract the bitumen right in the pit and eliminate tailings ponds by bringing up a dry product. By doing this we can reduce our water usage by up to 40% and reduce methane usage in our facilities by up to 71%. That’s another example of technology simultaneously reducing our operating costs and our environmental footprint.

In 2018, we completed a pace of power at 500 tons an hour and into 2019 our pace of power is at 1,000 tons an hour. That is through the winter, which is extremely important given the harsh conditions in which we operate. It is important to know how the process will perform in all temperatures. We are in the middle of conducting those trials, and we’ve seen some very encouraging results so far. We’re continuing to look forward to coming up with something that we’ll be able to commercially implement [...]

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