Canada has a good news — bad news story to tell the world about its rich hydrocarbon resources, but through innovation including the use of technologies such as photonics, nanotechnology, genomics, artificial intelligence and robotics, the good news will overwhelm the bad in the future.

That’s the view of Soheil Asgarpour, president of Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC).

He believes that Canada can tap its massive hydrocarbon storehouse while also becoming a leader in low-carbon technologies.

“The transition to a low-carbon economy doesn’t necessarily mean the production of oil and gas will come down. It means producing cleaner oil and gas from hydrocarbons.”

Asgarpour, who will speak at the Conference Board of Canada’s upcoming Reshaping Energy 2017 conference on April 11 and 12, points out that Canada has amongst the largest hydrocarbon resources in the world, thanks to its oilsands and deep natural gas deposits.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that these are costly resources to develop, with a high carbon footprint.

But it’s far from a lost cause.

“With the right technologies one could reduce the carbon footprint of oil and gas production by 80 per cent,” Asgarpour said.

Canada faces challenges in realizing that vision, he notes, particularly as the new U.S. administration pulls back on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change.

“We are not as competitive as the U.S., so cost is extremely important,” Asgarpour says, adding that the current low commodity price environment complicates the issue. However, the PTAC head believes the oil and gas industry can both be competitive and reduce its carbon footprint.

“There has been this mental argument that there is a trade off between environmental and economic performance. We’re saying that you can do both.”

PTAC has helped develop numerous technologies to address the challenge.

One is an air and fuel management system called REMVue SlipStream. Commercialized through PTAC by seven operators, it utilizes an integrated engine and compressor control system to capture vented gas, which can then be used as fuel.

The patented technology has saved the producers who have deployed it $28 million per year, while reducing GHGs that are equivalent to taking 130,000 cars off of Canadian roads, PTAC says.

If deployed industry wide, which is the PTAC goal, the technology could save the industry hundreds of millions of dollars, while reducing GHGs by the equivalent of taking 1.6 million cars off of roads.

Another example is a technology that analyzes the steam being injected SAGD reservoirs in the oilsands.

The approach is designed for an accurate measure of the quality of the steam being injected downhole. This has the potential to substantially improve SAGD steam/oil ratios, correspondingly reducing energy requirements and GHGs.

Another approach that can be applied in SAGD is insulated tubing technology, which helps ensure that steam won’t lose its energy when injected from the surface to the reservoir.

There’s also the role that IBM Watson could play in the energy industry, says Asgarpour. The computer system defeated human challengers in a well-publicized appearance on Jeopardy.

“It can manage steam/oil ratios and lead to an improvement [in energy efficiency] of up to 13 per cent, he said.

With a whole suite of new technologies under development for cleaner oil and gas production, Asgarpour said the future is full of promise.