The energy industry loves its acronyms.
It’s only partially a joke that if you don’t hear a new acronym by 10 a.m., make one up and get it into circulation before lunch.
But there’s an important new acronym: CRIN, or Clean Resource Innovation Network.
It has no executive director, president or staff. It has no address or letterhead. No one has a CRIN business card. You won’t find it with a Google search.
But it’s a network in the truest sense. And its challenges are significant and ambitious. Its objectives will positively reshape the way Canadians think about energy. And it will help the oil and gas sector overcome socio-political barriers that frustrate its attempts to build credibility with an increasingly disengaged and disillusioned population.
CRIN’s mandate is to do what no one has done: synchronize the diverse clean-resource innovation nodes.
CRIN can define the term ‘clean resources.’ The notion of clean resource development too often conjures up the converse: if this is clean, something else must be dirty.
But resource cleanliness exists. We just haven’t been very good at defining that evolving cleanliness. Being clean in energy means to be constantly moving toward ever-cleaner goals.
The proof dates back years.
The resources sector is now drilling farther and faster horizontally and directionally than ever before, with accuracy.
It’s challenging just to keep track of the oilsands innovation; from advances in hydro-transportation of bitumen to incredible achievements in thermal recovery that include enhanced solvent-based recovery and electromagnetic reservoir heating. New processes reduce emissions and produce upgraded product on site.
The hundreds of achievements add up to global leadership in ever-cleaner hydrocarbon production that positively impacts air, water and land dynamics.
So why don’t the public, politicians and activists know? Why aren’t they pointing with pride to oil and gas as an innovation system that fuels our economy and way of life? Why don’t post-secondary students consider energy careers? Why are investors often skittish about fossil-fuel opportunities?
Because the industry hasn’t told the story well.
CRIN can change that. It can offer a compelling clean energy perspective that touches on economic diversification, community building and environmental sustainability. And CRIN can make the industry more attractive to investors, as a counterbalance to the anti-oil narratives of dirty energy.
CRIN has a steering committee and various sub committees to co-ordinate and develop its activities. The talent on those groups is drawn from the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada, Energy Futures Lab and Innovate Calgary, to name a few. There are also leading companies (Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus and Suncor, for example) and affiliated agencies involved.
CRIN’s network include governments and agencies, post-secondary institutions, corporations, investors and economic development authorities. It has embraced the innovation communities that typically stay apart from legacy corporations and organizations. This creates connections between experts and technology companies looking to gain traction within Canada’s energy transition.
CRIN also deliberately seeks not to duplicate existing innovation efforts. Its goal is to spur innovation at a pace only made possible through leveraging existing capacity.
We know that today’s energy cleanliness is not tomorrow’s cleanliness. Nor should it be.
CRIN’s first major step is to tap into the federal government’s innovation funding announced in the March budget. Its letter of intent will be submitted this week, along with similar applications from other sectors. By fall, it will know if it’s successful.
If Ottawa is serious about clean energy of all types underpinning Canada’s economic future, the bureaucrats and politicians pulling the levers would do well to learn about CRIN and its potential.
Bill Whitelaw is president and CEO at JuneWarren-Nickle’s Energy Group.
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Bill. Respectfully, the problem facing fossil fuels isn’t one of storytelling, and if that is the intent of CRIN then it will be a truly wasted opportunity. If better marketing was indeed the problem, then pipelines and lng terminals would be mushrooming across the landscape and coast.
The climate in fact is changing and with it public and political sentiment around the risks associated with those changes.
For my part, as an active observer, I am hopeful that CRIN can be an engine that accelerates the clock speed of the Canadian oil and gas sector beyond that of peer jurisdictions – the US, Norway, the U.K. – and enables Alberta to capitalize on our adjacent competencies, the technologies, techniques and infrastructure that is developed and mobilized here, to enable the province to establish leadership in the industries of tomorrow, including carbon capture and utilization, power storage, industrial internet, saline water treatment and – perhaps most important of all – transformative business models that enable more rapid deployment of capital for large scale industrial system transformation than anywhere in the world.
Success will position Canada for longer term prosperity. A focus on better stories will leave Alberta increasingly behind.