Water Treatment Operator Program Receives Provincial Certification
It's official: the Alberta government has certified the OSLI-inspired Water Treatment Operator Program. That means graduates of the program — offered for the first time this fall at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) — will receive a Certificate of Accreditation.
"It's been two-and-a-half years of hard slogging by the OSLI team, SAIT and subject matter experts to put this program together, but receiving accreditation made it all worth while," says Duane Kichton, who as OSLI's project lead for the Water Treatment Operator program has worked on the project since its inception.
"We were asked to put together this program to address the need for higher levels of expertise to operate the complex water treatment plants that are critical to the success of SAGD (Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage) operations, and we've done just that."
Kichton says water treatment has the biggest impact on SAGD so it is in industry's best interest to ensure operators are trained in chemical, mechanical and regulatory disciplines. "When we talk about SAGD, it really is a water treatment plant and the bitumen is the byproduct of water treatment so if you have the water treatment right then everything else falls into place."
Course content for the Water Treatment Operator Program will be completed by the end of June and three of the nine courses being offered are now being piloted via the Internet with seven water treatment plant operators from OSLI companies. Although the program was designed for the classroom, about 90 per cent of it can be taken over the Internet to allow existing water treatment operators to upgrade their skills while maintaining their jobs.
This September 20 students will be filling the classrooms at SAIT, rather than the original number of 35, to ensure jobs are available when they complete the program. "There will be some students who are straight out of Grade 12 and others who are switching jobs and see greater opportunity in SAGD operations," says Kichton, who is Director, Operations Excellence at Suncor.
The students will be taking nine courses over three semesters including: general chemistry; SAGD water chemistry; lab techniques; industrial safety & environmental regulation; process control; process analysis; mechanical equipment; unit operations; and computer/communication skills.
Recognizing that many SAGD operations require the water treatment operator to perform other technical tasks, Kichton says another module may be added to the program to ensure graduates also have a Third- or Fourth-Class Steam Engineer ticket. The students graduating in 2012 will be asked to obtain the ticket, which can be done through correspondence courses.
"We're still learning as we go and have found that many operators have to be multi-skilled so we will be making adjustments to ensure the program meets the needs of both companies and students."
It will be up to the individual companies to determine if existing operators will require a Water Treatment Operator Certificate. Existing operators could take the program through the Internet or challenge the
course material to determine if they meet all requirements.
Now that the program is set to launch, Kichton says he and his team are ready to hand off their responsibilities to the next OSLI Water Treatment Operator program team, who will shepherd the program through its early years. The next team will also continue to liaise with other segments of the oil and gas industry that have indicated interest in the program and how it could be applied to oil sands mining and other oil and gas operations.
"I really see this Water Treatment Operator Program as the start of something bigger for the region. Other companies see the collaboration and the results and understand that they could solve their own problems following this path."