Seeing the forest through the trees: Help reduce oil sands exploration footprints

Land Innovation Opportunity


COSIA is calling on innovators to submit new research or potential technologies that would enable in situ oil sands operators to conduct below-ground exploration with zero or very limited impact to the surface. 

Current exploration technologies require the clearing of some trees and vegetation. COSIA research has identified that these disturbances can provide a line of sight for predators, like wolves, which in turn can negatively impact the population of boreal caribou. 

While current practices have evolved to address this, some disturbance is still required. In effort to be world leaders in responsible energy development, COSIA members are looking to refine exploration activities through research and technology that will enable exploration with zero or very limited impact to trees and surface vegetation.

Though responding to this Innovation Opportunity, potential solution providers can help minimize impacts to the boreal forest, help protect boreal Caribou, and enable development of responsible energy. COSIA is looking for new exploration solutions that will result in a “step-change” or significant further reductions in tree harvesting during resource exploration.

About This Innovation Opportunity 

Within COSIA’s land priority area, one of the high-priority Innovation Opportunities centres on Refining Strategies for Reducing Exploration Footprints. This opportunity is focused on reducing the future exploration footprint across the oil sands region from project expansions and existing projects through:
A.    Identifying and developing new zero-or low-footprint seismic technologies;
B.    Evaluating life-cycle cost and benefit of new and existing tools and technologies; and
C.    Developing and sharing exploration footprint reduction best practices.

The driver for this Opportunity is to help attract ideas to save forest cover for the woodland caribou while enabling exploration that is key to producing energy from Canada’s oil sands.

While in situ projects require very little surface land disturbance – only 15 to 25 percent of the land compared to 100 percent for mining – these projects still have an impact on the boreal forest with up to 50 percent of in-situ land disturbance tied to exploration activities. 

Seismic, electromagnetic, gravity or other technologies or methods that will result in reduced land disturbance may also be considered. Possible solutions include technologies and techniques that will allow for subsurface geology profiling without the need to clear surface vegetation.

Further information and technical details and requirements are outlined in the challenge document COSIA has developed to enable potential solution providers to help us meet the challenge of advancing zero or low footprint technologies.

Submit an idea for consideration

The first step is to review the challenge document and the related links below. Following that, ideas for consideration can be submitted through COSIA’s Environmental Priority Assessment Portal (E-TAP). This step requires filling out a simple form to provide us with basic, non-confidential information. This is then viewed by all COSIA members. If even just one COSIA member is interested in the idea, commercial discussions will begin. 

Remember that you can include partners in your summary, and we encourage innovators to align their approach to today’s regulations if they have potentially better solutions to current exploration practices that would meet or exceed today's requirements.

We look forward to your ideas helping us find ways to continually improve upon the environmental performance of Canada’s oil sands industry. 

What’s in it for a potential solution provider?

There are many benefits to working with COSIA, which can include opportunities to develop or test new technologies. Ultimately, with the oil sands being one of Canada’s largest industries, there are significant market opportunities for any technologies that are commercialized for use by one or more COSIA members. In addition, many technologies advanced through COSIA may also find markets in other industries. 

At the same time, with regards to this particular Innovation Opportunity, solution providers will also play a critical role in helping to reduce the impacts to the habitat of the woodland caribou, boosting their chances of survival.

Our Approach

COSIA is an alliance of oil sands producers focused on accelerating the pace of improvement in environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through collaborative action and innovation. 

In effort to improve environmental performance, COSIA members analyze their operations to identify possibilities that, if realized, would contribute towards achievement of COSIA’s aspirations. We call these Innovation Opportunities, which incorporate focused, actionable descriptions of the current state of the opportunity and desired results.

Our full list of Innovation Opportunities includes research and technology opportunities, from incremental – because the small things add up – through to game-changers with the potential to propel industry forward.

Related Links
Land and Caribou projects underway
Published Land research

For more information on this and our other Innovation Opportunities:
A.    Join our Associate Member Program
B.    Visit our website regularly
C.    Sign-up for our newsletter 
D.    Follow our social media channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter

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