From the monthly archives: November 2010

More technology driven than ever, the oil and gas industry has sometimes willingly, sometimes less so, stepped up to meet the expectations of shareholders, stakeholders and ticketholders. In doing so, they have changed the face of energy in Canada. ing the norm, and collaborative efforts are popping up in what was, and still is, a highly competitive industry. Fort St. John’s Oct. 12-14 Energy Conference was a good indication of just how many small changes have taken place in the last decade.
“For me, I think this conference signified a rebirth both of the conference and the new energy industry,” said Fort St. John Mayor Bruce Lantz. “We
had well over 200 delegates. We were fortunate to have the premier and several members of cabinet in attendance, but mostly I think it shows that the industry is adapting to a changing world. “The days of rigs and roughnecks and hard driving individuals working in the industry without any thought of their impacts on the land and the society involved – those days are gone,” he added. The conference content ranged through a variety of components relevant to operating in today’s energ y sector. A lternate energy, working with communities, technology and It’s not always easy to see the paradigm shifts as they inch into day-to-day life but a step back – or forward – 10 years, and all of a sudden the differences are crystal clear.

“Bill Gates once said something that I think is really true. ‘The world changes a lot less in two years than you think and a lot more in 10,’” said Premier Gordon Campbell. “Two years out I’m not sure it will feel that much different than it does today but I bet 10 years out it feels a lot different.”
In the last decade, Bear Mountain Wind Park went online, $billions have been invested in carbon capture and storage projects by both governments and industry, advances in oil sands ecological management are ongoing, the institution of programs that focus on creating a social license to operate
are flourishing, stressing safety at every level is now expected, government regulations are evolving, consultations at a level previously unheard of are become technological advancements were all part of the agenda. As well, there were less formal opportunities to network with individuals who, while they may not be readily available in the course of doing business, could provide valuable insights, opinions and different points of view, explained Lantz. “I think that it showed very well that the industry no longer can or wants to operate in isolation. They see that they are part of a matrix and they have to find a way to fit within that matrix and I think the content deliberately tried to span that,” said Lantz. The consensus in business and government alike is that the new energy sector is technology driven. And, whether that technology is designed to bring new energy sources online or to improve the way more traditional energy resources are managed, it has become the foundation of today’s industry.
“When you think about the new technologies that are developing just because we have said we’re going to put a little bit of a cost on carbon; that’s going to create new energy, and it’s going to lower the carbon footprint that we’ve got, and that’s going to help us start to deal with the challenges of global warming,” said Campbell. “The biggest single change is to understand that the energy sector today is a technology sector…The energy sector
is probably one of the highest technology sectors that we have.” The technology, in simple terms, is a result of the marriage of meeting public expectation and industry needs to have a reasonable return on investment. One of the biggest issues at the conference, and facing the industry, is the use of water for the fraccing. That issue is a prime example of the balance that all parties are attempting to achieve. “It was good to see from the industry people that were there that they’re aware of this. They’re taking it seriously. They do not want to be wasters of water but they need water for fraccing. Municipalities of course have a concern with the amount of water being used because, in many cases, potable water is being taken to be pushed into the ground for the fraccing process and that is not acceptable to most municipalities,” said Lantz.
“Their concern is that if industry keeps drawing water away, whether it’s potable water or from our rivers, that it will have a devastating impact on
people because water will not be available for domestic use. So technology is working on this; the industry is working on this, and I think there will be some solutions fairly quickly.” Several regional communities were in serious drought conditions this past summer and while the Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) did go over their new (October 210) water regulations at the Energy Conference, it will take more than regulations to offer a longterm solution. I don’t think it’s just a matter of the OGC putting regulations in place, whether they’re minor ones or major ones. I think it needs to be a collaborative effort between the OGC, the municipalities involved, the regional districts and the industry,” said Lantz.
“Industry has shown in the past that when they see a problem and they tackle it they’re able to come up with solutions fairly quickly. What gives me
a sense of optimism is the fact that it was evident at the conference that the industry is now taking water use seriously and that means they can devote some resources to finding alternate mechanisms to achieve the same end… The pressure needs to stay on them to do that and the OGC will help with that, and so will the municipalities.” Horizontal drilling, multi-well sites, Shell/Dawson Creek waste-water project, and other such advances in technology are a start and all indications are that the trend to look to technology to solve problems is only beginning. Attendees at Fort St. John’s Energy Conference got a chance to see a wide scope of what energy means these days.

“That’s why natural gas is pretty significant. That’s why natural gas is, it feels to us like it’s contained and it is, but it actually reduces carbon by about 50 per cent from coal fire plants so I think you’re going to see big transformations in coal-fire plants,” said Campbell. “United States, for example, is wrestling with the cap and trade system. If they actually had a conversion program that moved from coal to energy, they’d not just create jobs but they’d reduce their dependence on foreign energy sources. It would create jobs and they’d clean up their environment dramatically.” With 90 per cent of BC energy coming from clean sources, and a commitment that in the future, only clean energy will be developed, the meld of technology and environmental responsibility can only be strengthened into the future, said Campbell. Statistics Canada reports that British Columbia generated 60,859 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) of primary electricity (read: hydro) and 6,911 GWh of thermal electricity (including biomass, but also natural gas and diesel), in 1998. In 2008 their figures indicate that British Columbia generated 58,165 GWh of primary electricity and 7,376 GWh of thermal electricity. The statistics support the idea that not only is technology changing how energy is produced, that the source of the energy is also shifting. How many people knew what bioenergy was a decade ago? Who thought wind farms would have a place in the Peace? The province’s plan to implement a five per cent average renewable fuel standard for diesel by 2010 and support the federal action of increasing the ethanol content of gasoline to five per cent by 2010 is strong indication of things to come.
“It’s an enormous opportunity. We already have over 1,000 people working in the clean energy sector independent power production in BC today and over the next twenty years it’s going to increase dramatically because we do have the source,” said Campbell. The North is likely to continue to play a significant role in energy generation. Campbell went so far as to suggest the whole northern corridor is “going to be there not just for British Columbia but for Canada”. He admitted that, moving forward, there would be challenges and disagreements but that ultimately, those things were overshadowed by the potential. “Generally speaking, the next 20 years in British Columbia are going to set the groundwork, not just for Canada
but for the world in terms of having environmentally sustainable thoughtful, socially constructive energy sector,” he said.
“The rest of the world isn’t like us, we’re ahead of them in that regard so I do think you’re going to watch that change.” The demands of the emerging
Asian markets will help shape the face of energy to come as will the social conscience that demands environmental responsibility, and of course, the industry’s need to have profitable operations. “I think it’s infectious to hear their enthusiasm for what they’re doing and recognize I think… it’s a quantum leap of opportunities that we have in the energy industry in Canada and in British Columbia,” said Campbell.


The more things change, the more things stay the same. While there are more women actively involved in industry than there has ever been before, these days, more things are the same for them than are different, said Val Lipka, Schlumberger district manager.

She’s a great example of how women have come to be embraced by industry and can not only hold their own in what was once a man’s world, but can excel when they chose to. Here is one woman’s view of the changing face of industry in the North.
NWB: Can you give us a little background on yourself and how you ended up choosing to work in what was previously a male dominated industry?

VL: In college, I was working doing books for oilfield service companies and then from that I achieved my Business Administration majoring in accounting and then worked for an accounting firm specializing in oil patch industry corporate income tax and from that moved to accepted and there’s many women in the oil patch now. It took me a little longer to gain the respect and prove myself as a woman but once I did gain the respect of people in the industry, I believe that I get more respect than some men just because I had
to prove it instead of it just being given to me. I had to prove to them that I knew my stuff. I can’t complain. I deal with shock when people first realize I’m the manager but I don’t deal with disrespect and I mean that from all ages. I deal with older gentlemen that traditionally would not imagine a woman in this position. I deal with them fairly regularly and they’re 100 per cent supportive. Men have forgotten a little bit about the difference between men and women. I think they’re moving ahead.

NWB: What is it you love about being in industry?

VL: The adrenaline rush, honestly. It’s a fast paced lifestyle. There’s never the same day twice. There’s never the same problem
twice. I strive for the stress as much as the stress – well you sit and wonder why you’re not the greeter at Walmart. I would be bored. As much as I hate it I can say I hate my Blackberry I obviously don’t. Deep down I think I strive for that stress. I think it keeps you alive.
And partially, and I won’t deny it, sometimes deep down I think I am there to prove a point. I don’t know. I just want to be fulfilled in myself. The job keeps me alive, for sure.

NWB: Do you find any challenges you weren’t expecting?

VL: I don’t think there was anything I wasn’t expecting. I think it was exactly what I expected. I expected to have to prove myself. That was my major concern getting into the industry. I think in some ways it’s the opposite. The illusion of there being that prejudice against women isn’t as bad as we think.

NWB: What advice about going into this type of work do you have for young women who are looking for where to plant their feet?

VL: Don’t think you should go in and get special considerations because you’re a woman. Take a job that you can do Val Lipka, Schlumberger district manager. Grande Prairie and was hired as an administrative assistant for Smith. That was my major move into the industry. From that I gained interest in the industry to a higher extreme and started working in the shop while I was still an administrative assistant, just more because I wanted to learn. From there I went to a dispatch position and that has evolved to being the district manager for Grande Prairie and Fort St. John. It was kind of a strange flow compared to some people. It was just proving that I could do it and in my opinion, Smith went in a different angle and instead of the traditional manager that worked in the field for years and then was promoted up into management, when they promoted me, they went with the business angle so they could run it more like a business. They took a shot with me, and I can learn and have learned; she knows business so let’s teach her the field and I think it’s been successful so far.

NWB: Do you find that women are being given more opportunities than they used to be?

VL: For sure. I think there is still an oldschool frame of mind in some cases, but I can’t speak for the whole world but from what I see, I haven’t had a problem being physically and mentally but don’t let gender hold you back. Learn what you need to learn and go in there ready to get the job and I think you’ll get it.

NWB: Do women have an edge because they start out knowing they have to go in and prove themselves?

VL: In that sense, yeah. If you look at the successful women in the patch, we’ve all gone in head down, rear up, ready to work and prove ourselves and then with that, since we’re not kind of riding on the coat-tails I think we do move up faster because we are working harder at getting there. I know of women that were the trailbreakers. They’re high up in Calgary now and they would have been breaking in, in the ‘80s and wow, you know? That
would have been a totally different frame of mind than what we’re facing in 2000. Those are strong women.

NWB: What changes do you see in how people view energy?

VL: I definitely think the industry is putting a smaller footprint on Mother Nature now. Everybody is way more conscious
about the environmental impacts this industry has and I hope that people out of the industry are seeing that. As soon as one small thing happens they think it’s a humongous issue but they don’t look at how much the industry’s change to leave
a small footprint. Sometimes horrific events happen but horrific events happen in forestry, they happen in everything. I do strongly believe that the industry as a whole is trying to do things with a smaller footprint, do things economical, more efficient and with that society is starting to do things more efficiently too. People are starting to understand that gas is a resource that could potentially run out some day. Even if you think of the safety that’s out in the oil patch now; right form the oil companies to the service companies
down, safety has become probably one of the strongest interests that they have. Guess what? People are resources too and I do believe that the safety is protecting the resources of the employees more than it used to be. In the ‘80s there probably wasn’t a lot of calls to say I’m not coming. There was a blizzard and they just drove. Now, I will make that call. I do not want to explain to somebody’s wife why their husband isn’t coming home because the gas just had to get out of the ground. I think that’s starting to be realized; people are our most important asset so let’s put them first. The dinosaurs have been dead for three million years they can wait another day.

NWB: Has the industry really grown up in this region?

VL: Definitely. In the last few years, and I believe, but I’m not in New York or Toronto, but I strongly believe we’re the hub
of the oil patch right now. For sure in Alberta if not for the Canadian oil patch. For being such a small area, especially if you think about Huston, it’s a remote area, what’s coming out in Grande Prairie, through Montney and the Horn River up into Fort Nelson…? And I hope that we’re starting to be acknowledged as an important part – there is more than Fort Mac to the industry. There’s two sides to it. We’re the natural gas producers up here. Fort Mac has the oil sands but we have the gas.

NWB: Is there anything you would like to say to people who will be reading this?

VL: I hope that people that aren’t in the industry are starting to self-educate about the industry, especially on the environmental
side of things. To see that the oil companies are not horrible creatures that are raping and pillaging Mother Earth
for no reason. It comes back to that tiny footprint. They try to be the most efficient, the least damaging. We’re not a horrible industry
that’s coming in and ripping up land and spilling into the seas and rivers and streams. I do think when you get to the bigger centres that are out of our industry, I think people need to get educated before passing judgment on our industry. Oil companies aren’t horrible. They are trying their best. Even if you look at the BP spill in the gulf; people that don’t know about the industry, I don’t know if they think BP went out that day hoping? Is that what they think? That when we go out we hope that we’re going to have a horrific wreck and we’re going to kill all the marine life? I’m pretty sure BP didn’t wake up that morning thinking that’s what they were going to do. Horrific things happen but nobody talks about the thousands of good things they do in order to keep Mother Nature the way it is too.

NWB: If you had a magic wand and could change one thing about this industry, what would it be?

VL: In some ways, it’s this thing that draws me the most to the industry. It’s strange to me that it’s the first thing that
popped into my head. As much as I strive for the stress, in some ways it would be nice to slow everything down once and a while. People will think I’m crazy and looking for a crash. Really it’s more about finding a balance between the fast-paced industry and still have a social life – to still have the passion and excitement for the industry and still take time for a social life. I think we all do it. You get so enthralled in your job and suddenly your social and personal life comes so far down the list.