The energy was back at the Global Petroleum Show with cautious optimism returning to the sector and innovative technological solutions to the industry’s challenges taking centre stage at the 50th edition of the annual trade show and conference.

The energy sector has been through a number of boom-and-bust cycles in the last half century but the resilience of industry in Calgary was evident this week with more than 1,000 companies exhibiting and 50,000 attendees from around the world.

Organizers forecast over $6 billion in business will be conducted during the three days of the show.

The “digitization” of industry was a main theme at this year’s conference with the velocity of innovation from the Industrial Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, block chain, autonomous vehicles and other technologies rapidly transforming the energy sector globally.

It’s creating a new wave of innovation.

“Everybody is talking about the digital transformation,” said Ash Esmaeili, CEO of Calgary-based Aimsio, a five-year-old tech company that has customers throughout North America using its software platform to manage their field operations from estimation to invoicing.

“When oil was $100 a barrel nobody really cared about optimization or these kinds of systems but now the bottom line matters, the optimization, the digital transformation matters,” he said. “Our customers are now more aware of the benefits of technology.”

Aimsio participated in the Digital Oilfield exhibits and seminar series that was featured along with Clean Tech this year. Aimsio is taking part in the Solar Canada Conference this month in Calgary as the transfer of technology is one reason Calgary is a centre of excellence for all things energy.

The optimism of crude oil prices recovering above $65 US per barrel is balanced by concerns over a lack of access to global markets and regulatory uncertainty in Canada that’s curtailed investment compared with other major global producers.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers released its annual outlook this week that forecasts a 1.4 million barrel a day increase in oil production to 5.6 million by 2035 despite a “competitiveness gap” discouraging investment. As recently as five years ago, production was forecast to reach 6.7 million barrels a day by 2030. Capital investment by oil and gas producers declined to $45 billion in 2017 but it is still more than any other industrial sector in Canada.

A thriving energy sector is important for Canada as a new study from global consulting firm EY and the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business found a vibrant industry translates into “proactive investments in technology.”

The energy sector already invests more in clean tech than any other industry in Canada.

As Joy Romero, Vice-President of Technology and Innovation for Canadian Natural Resources and the Chair of the Clean Resource Innovation Network, noted in a session titled Responsible Hydrocarbon Production, the oil and gas sector accounted for $1.65 billion of the $2 billion invested in clean tech in Canada last year and improvements in environmental performance are evident.

A state of uncertainty exists in the energy sector but the EY/U-of-C study Business Resilience: weathering the next storm said it creates a competitive advantage for some companies: “Resilience is the strategic organizational capability to mitigate and adapt to disruptive and destructive threats, reshape environments, and survive both foreseen and unforeseen risks.”

Rod Stearn, country manager for Canada for global oilfield services giant Baker Hughes, acknowledged challenges exist but maintained innovation and technology sets the Canadian industry apart and it will be more critical going forward. He praised  the “unique ecosystem with six or seven square blocks of ideas, capital and spirit” that exists in downtown Calgary.

“There is a significant appetite for efficiency and innovation. There is no other place in the world where Baker Hughes operates that you see the kind of demand for innovation and new ideas than Canada and it has always been that way,” Stearn told the session on Responsible Hydrocarbon Production.

“This isn’t something that just evolved because of the current challenges in the market. Canada has always been an innovator, always been a place to try new ideas to move processes forward but the difference now is it’s an absolute necessity.”

It is how an industry weathers a storm and embraces the future.

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