Co-authored by Molly Beckel, President of the Young Pipeliners Association of Canada, and Kevin Krausert, President and CEO of Beaver Drilling and Avatar Program Co-Founder
Adam Hayman will remember March 17, 2020, for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic was sweeping the world. Oil prices were plummeting for the second time in his young career as a wellsite geologist. On that day, his employer laid him off. Thrust into an uncertain world amid the pandemic, crashing oil prices and a global energy transition, he had every reason to doubt how his future might look. He had devoted most of his professional career and academic life to an industry that was putting the brakes on future investment.
Adam’s story is, sadly, one among thousands of similar ones in the energy sector. Young oil and gas professionals have spent their early careers in an advanced engineering and scientific environment, yet are often the first to be let go during oil price collapses and downsizing. Last March was nothing new.
But there are two key differences in the current oil price cycle compared with those of years and decades past. Unprecedented technological disruption and the tension of a world with growing energy demands and the need to address and mitigate climate change has forced the industry’s young professionals to question its future in ways never contemplated. The good news is that they don’t want a return to the past; instead, they are building a new energy future for Canada.
The foundation of this new energy future is found in solutions such as hydrogen, geothermal, carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), and small module nuclear reactors (SMRs), where the engineering skills and scientific knowledge are found in today’s energy sector and among its many talented young professionals.
We also know that pipelines are critical components to these solutions. How else to transport these molecules? That’s why, in addition to changing the way we develop and use energy, we need solutions involving innovative pipeline construction techniques and digitization that result in the safe transport of all forms of energy.
Around the time Adam was going through his career-altering moment, leadership from the Young Pipeliners Association of Canada (YPAC), the University of Calgary and Beaver Drilling met to frame out an innovative solution. Our goal was audacious: to transform and revitalize the energy industry. We wanted to design a way to reconnect emerging professionals with the future of the industry, turn the page on the tired and exhausted narrative of oil and gas versus the environment, and put people back to work building a new energy future – one in which oil and gas is part of the solution.
Enter the YPAC x AVATAR program, a collaboration between academia and the energy and aerospace sectors. This unique initiative was designed to take participants through an eight-week virtual learning journey, supported by University of Calgary faculty and some of the industry’s most senior leaders. Instead of the old industrial model of sitting in a classroom and taking notes, we tasked participants to report back with solutions to specific problems.
The executive teams of some of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies jumped in to support the emerging professionals. Likewise, the chief executive of the aerospace giant Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, joined our program, and it saw federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan and Alberta Minister of Energy Sonya Savage set aside politics and put young professionals first, by having a first-ever joint ministerial dialogue with the participants.
The leadership of Mr. O’Regan and Ms. Savage during this time of challenge for the energy sector needs to be loudly applauded. These are two driven, capable and talented ministers committed to a better energy future from coast to coast.
But getting there means taking some risks, which is what Adam did when he applied to be part of the YPAC x AVATAR program – and he was one of 54 chosen to participate. Our country does not have the luxury to sit and watch on the sidelines any more. There are tangible, realistic and economic solutions to the energy and climate challenges that face our nation. It is time for all of us to stand up.
Today, the cohort of 54 will be delivering their transformational visions of the future of oil and gas. As Adam showed us last week when he asked Canada’s two most senior energy ministers their thoughts on building a better energy future, all we need is the courage and conviction to work together and believe in our prospects.
His work, and the work of the other 54 YPAC x AVATAR program participants, will empower Canada to build the energy future it rightly deserves. The young professionals of our industry stand ready. Join us. This is just the beginning.