PODCAST: Environmental innovation in Canada’s offshore oil and gas industry

Kieran Hanley of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association discusses the latest clean tech innovations to reduce emissions and environmental impact in offshore oil and gas.

The Newfoundland and Labrador offshore oil and gas industry produces oil with some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and it’s working to get even better.

Kieran Hanley, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association (NEIA), discusses some fascinating work going on to advance clean tech solutions within the industry as part of a green transition. These include hybrid in-service ships, electrification of facilities and iceberg-evading offshore wind turbines.

Full transcript of podcast:

 Tracy: Welcome to the Energy Examined podcast, home to conversations covering a range of topics relevant to Canada’s vast natural gas and oil industry. Thanks for tuning in. I’m Tracy Larsson. Today’s discussion takes us to Atlantic Canada to talk about environmental innovation. We’re joined by Kieran Hanley, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association. Kieran, welcome to the podcast.

Kieran: Hi there. Great to be here.

Tracy: So right off the bat, let’s tell people about the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association. What kind of work do you do and who are your members?

Kieran: Yeah, so the name is a bit of a mouthful, so we go by the acronym right now, NEIA. We’re a group of about 200 companies that support the development and application of clean technologies and the growth of the green economy in Newfoundland and Labrador. So, it’s a fairly diverse group with members that provide products and services to all of the key economies really within this province, from mining to forestry to oceans to aquaculture to fisheries and of course, offshore oil and gas, which is a major, major part of our economy. We work with those members on a one-to-one basis to help them pursue opportunities, whether that be internationally or internally to improve their own productivity or competitiveness, exploit research and development opportunities and so on. And then aside from the kind of one-on-one work we do with our members, we represent their collective interests at the sector level. So, we’re regularly engaged with governments and industry leaders to ultimately create and exploit clean growth opportunities within Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy.

Tracy: Alright. So clean technology, clean growth. Let’s talk a little bit about that. What are we really talking about? How would you define clean technology?

Kieran: Yeah, so sometimes it depends on who you ask and kind-of where you’re asking in country. It can be defined in various ways. I find that one of the biggest misconceptions is that clean technology is conflated with clean energy, things like wind turbines, solar panels, hydro stations and so on. And while renewable energy is a really important part of clean tech, it’s only a part of that story. So, we would simply define clean tech as being products and services that help improve or enable better environmental performance. So, that could sure be a wind farm. But it also could be a little widget that improves fuel efficiency or it could be some sort of software that optimizes operations. So, in our neck of the woods and relevance, I guess, to this discussion around oil and gas, here’s a couple of examples I can give if you think that that would make sense.

Tracy: Yeah, definitely. Please do.

Kieran: So, I’ll just give three examples of companies that are doing different things that might help explain how we view clean tech. Kraken Robotics is a marine tech company with sonar and laser sensors and systems and subsea battery solutions for unmanned underwater vehicles. So, their technology enables very advanced subsea environmental characterization and monitoring, which is important because the information that they can provide can enable all sorts of different type of activity that improves environmental performance. Another example would be a company called DuXion Motors. It’s a company that is developing technologies that will allow for the hybridization of in-service ships. So, that means retrofitting existing marine vessels to use electricity as a fuel source alongside the diesel, which will substantially reduce emissions. And, kind-of continuing along that line of ocean-based companies, which is, I guess, a departure from a lot of what you might talk about on this podcast, Rutter is a company that uses radar technologies to detect and predictively model oil slicks on the water and to predict waves in the ocean. So, understanding the environment in that context and being able to understand how oil may move along the sea at the top of the sea, I think that allows for a better response to any occurrences that happen. So, that’s a sense of the type of things that are done here in the clean tech space. And obviously, us being an island in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, it does have that oceans feel.

Tracy: So, those are three really great examples to give people an idea of the kinds of things that you’re talking about and what’s happening out there. But I bet that really barely scratches the surface of what’s happening in the innovation and environmental innovation space.

Kieran: Yeah, absolutely, so those are kind-of companies doing some really interesting things and companies that are very successful, but if you kind-of take that and look at the industry in a much broader sense, there’s all sorts of really interesting discussions happening about how to reduce emissions yet grow the economy at a sector level. So, for example, the assets offshore, keep in mind that these platforms are hundreds of kilometres out in the ocean, away from the coastline. How do we reduce emissions associated with their activities? And some ideas, which I’ll probably talk about a little bit later are big, big ones that include stringing an electricity cable, for example, out to those offshore platforms to displace diesel units on the platforms or creating kind-of right next to the offshore asset, a wind farm in the ocean that actually provides electricity. So, those are some of the much, much bigger, higher level ideas that are in play right now, which could have quite an impact, both kind-of improving environmental impacts and also diversifying our economy.

Tracy: And, you know, we hear a lot about the move to a green economy now as well. And so, I’m wondering if you, like what’s your definition of a green economy? Because that’s another thing that could be different, depending on where you are in the country and who you’re talking to.

Kieran: Yeah, and I think time has also changed how we perceive these things. To be frank, I think in the past 10 years we’ve seen such a rapid acceleration globally around these ideas, whether it’s green economy and sustainable economy, energy transition, net zero. I think our understanding of these things evolve and, in some ways, they’re becoming a little outdated. We would view the green economy really as kind-of the culmination of all of the activity to protect, enhance or improve the environment. That’s a pretty broad stroke. But we think that, frankly, environmental performance is becoming so important in every industry and through the supply chains of every industry that it’s just going to become the norm. And I don’t know that in 10 years’ time we’re necessarily going to view this as being the green economy. I think we’re just going to view it as the normal day-to-day operations of any industry similar to how safety now is integrated so well into all industries. It’s something that must be done. And we kind-of take it for granted that that wasn’t necessarily always a priority. But I think that we’re going to see these green ideas become much the same. And in many ways, we already have.

Tracy: Yeah. How do you see Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore industry fitting into this, to the evolving green economy?

Kieran: Yeah, so I think kind-of we often devolve into this this kind-of argument, green economy versus oil and gas. But as much as we talk, as much as we talk about and indeed our organization, we heavily support concepts like sustainability, energy transition, decarbonization. The fact of the matter is, is that the world is going to need oil and gas for many years yet. That’s why it’s called a transition. It’s not a flipping of the switch. I think as we look long-term, we do want to get away from fossil fuel production, but we have a ways to go to get there. The infrastructure in place, the habits that we have, all of those things are going to take time to change. And in the meantime, people do and will need oil. In Newfoundland and Labrador, we produce oil with some of the lowest greenhouse gas intensities relative to global operations. We produce a light sweet crude material that requires a lot less refining. And there’s room for us, like I alluded to earlier, through electrification and pairing our activities with renewables, there’s an opportunity to even further substantially reduce those emissions of production. So, by striving to provide one of the lowest greenhouse gas emitting oil products in the world, we believe that that in and of itself is a very worthy contribution to climate change. Furthermore, we know that an aggressive pursuit of net zero within our offshore oil and gas industry will attract investment, drive innovation and support economic growth and diversification that will positively impact Canada’s ocean industries at large and build our economy. So, fundamentally, we view the continued success and evolution of the offshore oil and gas industry as being really the linchpin to our province’s transition into that greener, quote unquote, greener economy. And we really do hope to take a leadership role in that, not just for Newfoundland and Labrador’s sake, but for Canada’s sake. We think we can really shine this country in a very positive light.

Tracy: What needs to happen? Whose job is it to make sure that this happens?

Kieran: Well, I think it’s kind-of up to all of us. Governments need to have the carrots and sticks in place to move the needle. They have to entice companies to move, to entice the private sector to move in the right direction. And they need to, in some cases, mandate it. And we are seeing that play out certainly nationally and provincially. And it does create a certain degree of consternation. A time of change will always do that. Industry, I think, needs to future proof itself, accepting that the world is on this path to decarbonization and planning accordingly to maximize the benefit from that transition. And ultimately, we as individuals and people and, you know, day-to-day businesses really need to do our part as well. And the choices that we make in terms of what we buy and how we buy it.

Tracy: Why don’t you tell us a little more about what maybe some local oil and gas companies and supply and service companies are doing in the clean tech space out there?

Kieran: That’s a really timely question. Yesterday for I guess this week we had the recipients of the Emissions Reduction Fund announced the research, development and deployment components of that program. So, that was a program that finance activities proposed by the supply and service industry to reduce emissions within our offshore oil and gas industry. So just a couple of examples of — cherry-picked. One is a company called Growler Energy, which is furthering investigation of electrifying offshore assets so that, like I said earlier, would involve stringing an electricity cable on the ocean floor or even beneath it, hundreds of kilometres out to an offshore asset. So, that’s an interesting project to say the least. Another one is Imagine 4D is looking at creating a digital model or a digital twin of its power generation system on board the platform so that they can attempt to optimize the operations in a virtual sandbox, so to speak, before trying it out in real life. So, that’s a really fascinating piece. A company called InTech Sea is evaluating floating wind technology. So, not just an offshore wind farm, but a floating offshore wind farm in our offshore, which is important because you may not know that we have icebergs floating through our seas over here on the East Coast. And sometimes we need to move things that are in the water. So, something, a wind turbine that is kind-of fastened to the ocean floor might not fare so well if an iceberg just hit it. And then a company called Waterford Energy Services is modifying mobile offshore drilling units, so investigating the idea of this for shared renewable power supply and storage. So, these are just four of 16 things that were announced yesterday. And that’s only a drop in the bucket of the types of interesting things that we’ve now been seeing for a couple of years.

Tracy: How are your members in a more general sense, I guess, preparing for the future from the perspective of moving to lower carbon energy?

Kieran: Well, it’s a bit of a learning process, to be honest. In other parts of the world, whether it’s Norway or the United Kingdom, they’ve been a little bit further ahead of Canada in this thinking. So, what we’ve done, we partner with the oil and gas industry Association here, Noia, to help our members and their members and the industry at large understand kind-of what this means. So, we’ve taken groups on trade missions to places like Norway to understand what the opportunities and challenges are. We’ve obtained financing to do research collectively that helps us understand how what we’ve learned in places like Norway might apply in Newfoundland and Labrador or Canada, because it’s not always an apples-to-apples comparison. A good example of that is in Norway, you wouldn’t have icebergs floating through the water. We have workshops that we often do in partnership with organizations and we’ve done a few with CAPP actually over the past couple of years, a great partner. And in turn, all of these things, what we try to do then is understand what we’ve learned and then apply that to inform investments being made, policy decisions being made and so on and so forth. So, certainly at this point in time, we don’t have the answers. Our members don’t have the answers. We are learning. But what we do see is enormous opportunity to be leaders in this space.

Tracy: Any other work that you would like to highlight that either your organization is doing to help further these goals or, you know, some of your member companies that you might like to highlight in terms of what they’re doing?

Kieran: Well, I think what I would like to highlight is the spirit of collaboration and cooperation that we’ve struck here and in Newfoundland and Labrador and I guess Atlantic Canada at large. We’re an environmental industry association. So, we’ve worked quite closely with the oil and gas industry association, Noia, with CAPP and others to, where is the common ground? Where can we succeed together and try and break down those arguments between green versus non renewables? And over the past couple of years, we’ve had a lot of success with that. And it took some time to build trust. It took some time to learn how different industries operate and communicate and those sorts of things. But we now have a large degree of trust. And with that, we’ve been able to do some really interesting things. Last year, we conducted five separate research projects together, one which was around this idea of electrifying offshore operations. Another was around offshore wind in tandem with oil and gas operations. We’ve looked at emerging requirements from an environmental perspective for companies in the supply chain of energy industries. We’ve looked at what our research and development strengths are related to clean tech and oil and gas and where we might want to put our efforts in the future and direct investment. We’ve looked at the innovation ecosystem and what might be missing in Newfoundland and Labrador or Atlantic Canada at large. On that note, to be honest, we look to the West, we look to places like Alberta as shining lights in terms of how some of these things have been navigated with groups like PTAC and CRIN and others. So, we’re trying to learn from that part of Canada to see what we can drag back to the East Coast. And we’re also now working together to do, to really map out the plan for net zero for the offshore oil and gas industry, and not just from an environmental perspective, which, of course, that’s a priority. But how do we achieve net zero while maximizing the economic growth and development opportunities associated with that? So, that’s a large question, but we’re just starting that now and we think that the next year is going to be kind-of heavily involved in that space. So, that’s a long answer to a short question, but hopefully I answered what you wanted.

Tracy: So, you mentioned electrification. Are there any other opportunities you want to talk about for emissions reduction?

Kieran: Yeah, that’s a good point. It’s all about reducing the emissions that come from the diesel turbines, and one area that we need to spend a lot of time on is carbon capture and then, of course, storage. And I think there’s a lot that we can do actually to enhance the amount of collaboration that’s happening between, say, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador in that sense. We know that a lot has been accomplished in the West in carbon capture and storage in a terrestrial sense. But now we need to find a way to really apply it in the oceanic environment, which presents challenges, but I’m sure that there’s lots of knowledge and technology that can be exchanged. So, that’s a great area of opportunity. And hopefully we can find some ways to create new relationships and new partnerships in the pursuit of that.

Tracy: Just remind us of your website for anyone who wants to head there and find out more information.

Kieran: Yeah. So, our website is ‘n’ as in Nancy, ‘e-i-a’ dot org. So neia.org. And I do want to mention actually this week we do have an event that we are putting off with CAPP and with NEIA and it focuses on low carbon offshore oil and gas. We’re going to have speakers; international speakers talk about the trends that they’re seeing. We’re going to dive deeper into some of the projects that were recently announced and we’re going to release some of the research studies that we’ve done in partnership. It’s a free event. It’s May 14th. It starts 10 o’clock Newfoundland time. So, it might be a little bit early for those in other parts of Canada, but it will be recorded. So, if you register, you will be sent a link with the recording. So that’s my plug for that event.

Tracy: Perfect. That information’s on your website as well.

Kieran: Yes, it is.

Tracy: Awesome. Kieran, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast today.

Kieran: Thanks so much for the opportunity.

Tracy: That was Kieran Hanley, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association, or NEIA for short. Hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. You’ve been listening to Energy Examined. Please subscribe, share with a friend and catch up with us again soon for our next episode.

In this article, Context speaks with:
  • Kieran Hanley Executive Director, Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Industry Association