NEWS ARCHIVE



 

Reinventing oil?

Imagine… a new way of doing business

“We want the same thing you want,” the company says. “An energy industry that’s better for the planet and for people, and for profits.”

As far as vision statements go for oil firms, that’s a bit off the beaten track from the average fossil fuel company mission of drilling for, producing and selling hydrocarbons.

But then Imaginea is not your typical Alberta oil patch firm and its CEO, Suzanne West, defies the stereotype of a fossil fuel company executive.

West wants Imaginea to lead the notoriously hide-bound industry towards a renewable future, but with the price of oil lower than $34 a barrel, it’s not an easy goal to meet. West notes that she picked “one of the most Draconian, old school, stuck-in-its-ways industries” to prove that sustainability can be introduced into any manner of business.

“I didn’t pick the easiest one to do it in. I picked the hardest.”

Nonetheless, West is attempting to reinvent the idea of what an oil company should look like.

Chapter 1

West’s moonshot

“I happen to do that with oil and gas assets. That’s my mojo,” she said. “That’s my gift.”

She compares sprucing up an oil company to refurbishing an old house. Some people see an ugly house, but re-imagine it with a new roof, different landscaping and so forth. West says it’s the same for her with an oil company.

Take Imaginea’s solar-powered pump jack, for example.

Imaginea approached SkyFire Energy, a solar energy company, to design a greener pump jack.

The result is Alberta’s first solar-powered pump jack, and an unusual collaboration between a fossil fuel firm and a renewable energy company.

SkyFire Energy’s solar array generates over 60 megawatts of clean power annually, enough to power over nine homes and that offsets 38 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year. Krzysztof Palka, Imaginea’s chief strategist, calls it a “small, yet important step on our road to producing pollution-and-emission-free oil and gas in Alberta.

Brodie Yyelland, a project manager with Skyfire, says he loves the synergy. “These aren’t polarized industries,” he says. “They can work together, and this is a nice, first, small example of how that can happen.”

Imaginea produces about 6,300 barrels a day of crude oil. The company has wells and pipelines, but it also has renewables working to power some of that infrastructure. West argues that the problem with fossil fuels isn’t that they’re produced, but rather the job of producing them could be done better.

The company wants to create a net positive environmental difference that leaves things better than the way in which they were found. Imaginea gives the example that if 10 trees are cut for a drill lease, then somewhere else the company needs to plant 11.

Or there’s the new technology Imaginea is pioneering to capture flare gas and transform it into energy to provide on-site, self-serve fuel. The result would be lower fuel costs, a reduction in transportation costs and a reduction in emissions from flared gases.

This kind of thinking comes from West’s years of experience in the oil and gas industry along with her own freewheeling, entrepreneurial background.

Chapter 2

Mother Nature, not a slave

Solar Installation – Harnessing the Power of the Sun

West brings a lot of radical ideas to Imaginea. On its website the firm lays out in a document titled Project StepUp ideas on caring about nature, and using “the brilliance of Mother Nature as a mentor and learning about how we can create balance, organize, grow, sustain and utilize independence/systems thinking for the greater good.”

West is a tough businesswoman who built, owned and operated four other junior oil companies before raising the $300-million in private equity to create Imaginea. She sold investors on her mantra of “profits, people and planet.”

“If you don’t want to change the world, don’t invest,” she said. Apparently, enough people believed in West’s vision and capacity to put a serious chunk of capital behind her big dream.

Townes Pressler, a managing partner with the U.S.-based private equity firm, Lime Rock – which has invested $300-million in Imaginea – calls West a driven visionary. “She’s very passionate about the things that do drive her. Making the world a better place happens to one of them.”

Pressler says West had received private equity back before she approached Lime Rock for funds for her fourth oil company, Black Shire Energy. Lime Rock invested $52-million in that firm.

“She had what I call a track record,” Pressler says. “In previous incarnations, she’d gotten on the long side of prices once, but she’d never really lost money and she’d made a lot of money for people. Her attention to detail and her demonstrated ability to improve oil and gas properties is what really attracted her to us.”

West graduated from the University of Calgary with a BSc in chemical engineering, according to Alberta Oil Magazine. Over the next 12 years she worked for Imperial Oil and Gulf Canada before deciding to strike out on her own.

She remortgaged her house and looked to friends and family for financing to found Touchstone Petroleum in 1999, Alberta Oil reported. She sold that company in 2001, founding and selling three more oil patch firms before forming Imaginea in 2014.

West says she buys the equivalent of old houses and fixes them up.

“I happen to do that with oil and gas assets. That’s my mojo,” she said. “That’s my gift.”

She compares sprucing up an oil company to refurbishing an old house. Some people see an ugly house, but re-imagine it with a new roof, different landscaping and so forth. West says it’s the same for her with an oil company.

But in West’s case that amounts to taking what’s been described as “non-core oil assets” in Alberta Oil Magazine and turning them around so that they deliver both barrels of petroleum and profits to their investors.

In the case of her last company, West took Lime Rock’s investment of $52-million into Black Shire and turned it into $183 million. “Having worked with her and seeing what she did we had increased confidence,” Pressler says

“As you know, going into the new venture she had a little bit different take on what she wanted to do and it was important to both of us going forward, both making money and doing things that are morally and responsible in business. I think we all agree we have an ethical obligation to take care of the planet, take care of people; the people, planet, profits mantra really appealed to us.”

Chapter 3

Richard Branson

Richard Branson – Message to Imaginea

West says before she went to Richard Branson’s Necker Island retreat, she knew intellectually that what people were doing — what she was doing was not sustainable. At the retreat, the 13 people who were there didn’t just discuss problems; they talked about solutions — and one of the solutions that came up was energy, how energy could actually define the future.

In between Black Shire and Imaginea, West attended Richard Branson’s Necker Island Virgin Unite 24902 Leadership Gathering in the British Virgin Islands, which she found eye-opening, to say the least.

Before she went to the Necker Island retreat, West knew intellectually that what she was doing was not sustainable – a problem. But at the retreat, the 13 people who were there didn’t just discuss problems; they talked about solutions — and one of the solutions that came up was energy, how energy could actually define the future.

West realized that the industry was missing an opportunity to mash energy and environment together in a way that could make both better.

The next morning West told the group she was heading home to change her industry. She wrote the Project StepUp manifesto because she told herself she’d step up her game and create a new kind of oil and gas company that places equal value on the planet, people and profit.

Among other things the manifesto calls on the company to create a “net positive environmental difference.” West challenges employees to think about things such as how can a profit be made from waste products, or how can you create value from something previously viewed as a cost?

The manifesto also calls for collaboration, with academics working on new technology, with other oil and gas companies to share best practices, ideas and joint ventures, and with other renewable energy companies to develop and ultimately switch energy sources “rather than just wait for the eventual end of fossil fuel use and no longer have a viable company.”

Branson wrote on the web page for the leadership gatherings about West and Imaginea and how West stood up and declared that she was going to return home to change the local oil and gas industry. “Leaving Necker, Suzanne conceptualised ideas about how to establish a new energy company that valued people and the planet as well as profit,” Branson wrote.

“Imaginea is set to use sustainable practices like drilling on already disturbed land, adopting less-damaging drilling techniques and working with the renewable energy sector.”

Chapter 4

6,300 barrels a day

TEDx Talk – Suzanne West

Imaginea produces about 6,300 barrels a day of crude oil. The company has wells and pipelines, but it also has renewables working to power some of that infrastructure. West argues that the problem with fossil fuels isn’t that they’re produced, but rather the job of producing them could be done better.

Back home in Calgary, West’s big dream is to produce hydrocarbons without pollution, without emissions, without the use of fresh water and to use them to build “really cool stuff” or clean energy.

“Hydrogen and carbon are not evil,” West insists. “What we’re doing with them is just not that cool.

“Canada should be rocking the world in sustainable development,” West declares. “I mean, kicking ass, and that’s been so remotely from our reputation, which is distressing to me.”

In December 2015, Suzanne West returned from Paris and the COP21 climate change summit. Watching Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna push the COP21 talks to a new goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius inspired West. When it came to climate change Canada showed it meant business.

“I was so proud to be a Canadian that day,” she told National Observer.

For West, the summit represented a big shift where the world was finally ready to acknowledge the reality of climate change and that to fight it action needs to be taken. “The inertia is shifting, where people are now saying we have to do something,” West notes.

West’s biggest take-away from the COP21 Paris summit is everyone needs to move faster to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But while the conversation is shifting toward renewables now and economists are beginning to say fossil fuels are finished, West questions why we’d just abandon the oil assets overnight—chief among them the industry’s people.

She wants to know what happens to them in the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

“I mean, the oil industry is full of really smart people,” she says. “Why don’t you repatriate engineers into finding different solutions to utilize the capital assets that we have in better ways?”

West knows there’s no easy answer to that transition. “I mean nobody wakes up in the morning and says, I want to destroy the Earth.”

One of the possibilities West imagines is Imaginea producing clean fuel, a Canadian hydrocarbon that would become the one of choice. The dream fits Imaginea’s vision of planet, people and profit.

Clean Imaginea fuel would be the only one countries and companies would want to buy. “Wouldn’t that be freaking cool?” West asks rhetorically. “Just think of all the crude oil that’s being used to fund wars and that would be gone.

“Would we be a smaller market? Absolutely. We want to be the last man standing, producing in a way that’s environmentally responsible. We’ve got some amazing, high dreams.”

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