Bright Future Ahead For Energy Workforce As Canada Builds On Petroleum Roots, CEEA Event Learns
Editor's note: This is one of a series of articles stemming from a recent Canadian Energy Executive Association (CEEA) Beyond Boomers event.
For previous articles, click below:
Providing Canada and the world with secure, affordable, low carbon and socially beneficial energy is the opportunity of a lifetime for Canadian workers, both young and old, the audience of executives and young professionals at the Canadian Energy Executive Association’s (CEEA) Beyond Boomers event heard in Calgary.
All hands are needed, whether they are technology developers, engineers, geoscientists, skilled trades, or entrepreneurs, to grow and decarbonize the oil and gas sector while creating the clean energy products and services of tomorrow, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and three industry panelists told the audience.
Despite ongoing political and social media battles on the future of oil and gas development, Smith said the numbers show the industry and the high-paying jobs it creates aren’t going away any time soon. While alternative energy use is growing globally, oil and gas demand is growing faster.
“This is a transition away from emissions, not oil and gas. It is too valuable of a commodity to leave in the ground,” Smith said, adding a big part of future employment will be decarbonizing that oil and gas production and CCUS development.
“I strongly anticipate the number of workers in the industry is going to grow,” she said, adding that the Pathways Alliance to decarbonize the oilsands alone predicts it will require 35,000 workers. “It relies on traditional education and traditional job skills in the industry. It all takes leadership and expertise.”
Jennifer Turner, a director at the Canadian Heavy Oil Association (CHOA), said she sees CCUS as just part of a natural evolution in the oilsands. When oilsands development began there was no precedent. Collaboration between academia, government, and industry made it happen, creating tens of thousands of jobs. “CCUS is just building on that knowledge. It is all seamless.”
But CCUS is only one future opportunity, said Smith. Expansion of LNG exports remains a priority and will drive further field activity and construction jobs. The bitumen beyond combustion effort, hydrogen, lithium from brine, geothermal, helium, renewable diesel and petrochemicals are all moving forward. “All these projects link to every sector in the field and in the office.”
Many of these new opportunities are already being explored by industry veterans and a new generation of entrepreneurs, said Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting Ltd. and a director for the Canadian Society for Evolving Energy (CSEE). “What’s changed is we’re now seeing so many existing skills being used in new energy. So many new young people and older experienced people are looking at starting helium, lithium, and geothermal businesses. They are building on the skill sets we have in Alberta and building on the immense amounts of data we have. They’re building on the strengths of our past.”
The potential to start new businesses and create new jobs meeting global demand for secure, affordable, low carbon energy supply is huge, said Kevin Krausert, chief executive officer of Avatar Innovations. Nearly $50 trillion is expected to be spent in the next 28 years as the world tries to get to net zero emissions, he pointed out. “This is where the next billionaires will come from. Energy is the new internet.”
While the opportunity ahead is huge for both Canadian industry and workers, there remain challenges, he added.
“We need risk capital to invest that is currently unavailable in Canada,” Krausert said. With the U.S. government introduction of the IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) providing refundable tax credits for cleantech, Canadian technology start-ups are headed south. The American energy industry now sees it can make money cutting carbon emissions and is moving fast. “We’re failing on economics, not on technology. To attract material capital, we have to show we are committed and are going to do it.”
Strained relationships between the various levels of government in Canada are also a risk, said Smith. Federal legislation like the Impact Assessment Act (Bill-69, clean electricity standards, and fertilizer reduction plans hitting agriculture all work against growing Canada’s energy industry. “These are the kinds of things that create fear among investors. And it’s not just in Alberta, it’s in every sector and all of Canada. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Unrealistic timelines are another issue, said Hayes. Governments around the world are setting emissions reduction targets without understanding the difficulties in achieving those targets. Supply chains are not in place today for the materials needed to build new energy systems. Building out the new systems and needed infrastructure is going to take decades. “The plans focus on emissions reduction. They are not energy plans.”
But Canada has an ace in the hole when it comes to exporting both clean energy and cleantech, said Turner. A lot of what is happening in global energy markets is about changing supply chains as countries integrate new low emissions criteria into their energy choices, whether for low carbon oil and gas or new energy sources and technology.
“There’s going to be a lot of non-compliance and unequal application of the rules. No one is more trusted than Canada, and we’re now living in a world where nothing is more valuable than trust.”