Ancient Hindu scripture and the modern energy sector may rarely coalesce, but Kevin Krausert believes there are valuable teachings from the Bhagavad Gita that help address challenges facing oil and gas drillers.

“We all know there are better technologies out there and we all know there are better business models out there, but we are just being crippled by this sense of fear and uncertainty as to what the future looks like so that we are not implementing any of them,” the Beaver Drilling Ltd. president and chief executive officer told the Bulletin. “How do we overcome doubt and fear to actually put together a plan that works for the future of the industry?”

In the Gita, Pandava prince and avatar Arjuna feels he cannot succeed. Charioteer, God incarnate Lord Shri Krishna, offers guidance and helps Arjuna overcome fear and doubt on the battlefield to win the war and fulfill duty. Krausert said: “That is very much analogous to the energy industry today and challenges a lot of people are fighting.”

This spring, 16 Beaver Drilling workers took the first weeklong module of the Avatar program, named in recognition of the Gita, organized with the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business to grow leadership capacity while developing innovative thinkers to face contemporary industry challenges via such technologies as, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, as well as advanced leadership development (DOB, May 29, 2017).

“When you think of the actual skill set required to adapt to technology when implications are yet unknown, the skill set is adaptability and creative problem solving,” Krausert said, adding these attributes really have not been promoted in the drilling industry, which is why he believes the Avatar program is essential.

“It is designed to advance those skill sets, as well as enable these rig crews to connect with real-world business cases and be able to implement them under the supervision of [U of C] staff.”

Modelled on technology sector notions, the program tackles topics such as technology integration, entrepreneurial thinking, cultural and emotional intelligence alongside applications of energy economics. Several industry partners, including NOV, Cenovus Energy Inc., Crest Consulting, and NextAI Canada, provide a framework for those in the program to apply concepts in real-world scenarios.

This week, the 16 Avatar participants, who range from roughneck to rig manager, undergo the second module. Whereas the first module was think-tank focused, the second one is more action orientated and involves more industry participation, with six oil companies helping build a plan.

“What happened after we launched it was that all these oil companies were keen on getting themselves involved, viewing it as an incubator of sorts, where they could throw out new technology ideas and new business model ideas to see how they would be implemented in a real-world situation under the safe supervision of researchers to see how they would be implemented,” noted the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) drilling executive chair.

For example, he said: “One of the teams has been working with NextAI Canada[looking at] algorithms they have already ran through, the data sets, and they are going from there. One of the sessions was with a virtual reality simulator and how we can establish those.”

On Monday, Peter Tertzakian, executive director of the ARC Energy Research Institute, hosted an industry-wide strategic planning session as part of the five-day second phase of the Avatar program. The session focused on what a Canadian oil and gas company will look like in 2022.

Stephen Attenborough, commercial director at Virgin Galactic, discussed on Monday the parallels between the energy sector and aerospace industry, which is undergoing its own technological transformation as a new sort of space race develops between private companies.

Once Avatar participants conclude classes on Wednesday, Krausert said, they will break into smaller teams to implement some of the new ideas and technologies uncovered through the program. He told the DOB that student feedback on the Avatar approach has been very positive.

Funded with a federal-provincial job training grant, the Avatar program deals with relatively high-level concepts, but also “drills down” into individual subjects, according to Krausert. For example, the program considers machine learning and AI, and how those might be implemented onsite.

“If you think about it, what is actually happening in a lot of different industries with the advent of [AI] and robotics is that career advancement has become challenged. Entire swaths of workers are going to be displaced by this.”

He added: “How this will actually benefit individual drilling rig workers is that rather than being displaced by a technological future, they become champions of it. Today they might be drillers, but tomorrow they might be robot technicians. It is bringing about a new sense of empowerment.”