Not that long ago, the oil sands was a small chapter of Canada’s petroleum production story.
How things have changed. Today, oil sands and the inherent challenges of developing the resource are well-known. These days, it seems only Google, Justin Bieber and the human genome get more media coverage.
The oil sands industry’s rise from obscurity to notoriety has made it a magnet for business pitches from experts and good-intentioned enthusiasts who want to help overcome obstacles to development and possibly get rich in the process.
There are garage-based inventors and tinkerers hopeful their discovery will be a game-changing breakthrough. There are executives and sales people representing companies, products and services they’re convinced can help.And there are those who believe they have a better way to do things and simply want to share their ideas.
Technology a cornerstone
Technological innovation is indeed fundamental to oil sands development and has been key to unlocking the potential of the resource. For years, operators have been investing and deploying technology to bolster productivity, drive down costs and lessen environmental impacts.
Suncor, for example, budgeted $175 million in 2013 to support research and development of technology.
To date, members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) have shared 560 distinct technologies and innovations that cost over $900 million to develop.
For industry, the most external pitches arrive in the form of unsolicited proposals for joint ventures, venture capital or new technologies.
Suncor alone receives numerous proposals almost daily, ranging from really good ideas to far-fetched schemes bordering on the ridiculous. Organizing, evaluating and responding to these proposals has been challenging and an area we’ve always wanted to make easier.
Technology proposal portals
That’s why Suncor recently set up a technology proposal portal to streamline the intake, review and evaluation of proposals. Since the launch of this portal in September 2013, Suncor is averaging 20 new proposals a month for evaluation.
COSIA also accepts unsolicited proposals tied to improving environmental performance in the oil sands. It launched a portal in 2013 to also streamline its intake process.
While a faceless, online system for capturing unsolicited proposals might lack the flair and drama of a typical Dragon’s Den episode, the pitches received are assessed by industry experts, and those with merit get due consideration.
All proposals are welcome and appreciated. When it comes to improving performance in the oil sands, industry experts will be the first ones to tell you they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas.