When I Grow Up
When asked what they want to be when they grow up, most kids answer ‘firefighter’, ‘teacher’, ‘doctor’ or ‘rock star’. But soon they may be adding Water Treatment Operator to their career choices thanks to a new program aimed at training people to work within the large and complex water treatment plants at some in situ operations.
Like many ideas, the Water Treatment Operator training program was born of necessity. Oil Sands Leadership Initiative (OSLI) members recognized that water treatment is critical to Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage, (SAGD) operations. These SAGD facilities inject steam down a well into the ground in order to heat the bitumen in situ, which is Latin for in place. The bitumen and condensed steam emulsion is then brought to surface through a production well and pumped back up into the plant, where it is separated and treated. The water is then treated and recycled to generate new steam. The water is recycled by a complicated water treatment system.
OSLI’s objective is to have members, and eventually all oil sands companies, develop hiring policies that require similar appropriate training, experience and certification requirements for water treatment operators. The idea is that better and more available training will benefit the industry by elevating the qualifications and skill level of all water system operators, leading to improved reliability, better recognition for water system operation as a career path, and ultimately creating a larger pool of qualified staff for the industry. This will improve water management across the industry, which will result in reduced water use, increased recycle rates and reduced waste.
OSLI’s Water Management Working Group has taken the idea of Water Treatment Operator Training from zero to 60 in a short timeframe. The group first came together to discuss water treatment and identify similar problems they faced with competency in the industry. From those discussions they brought water operators together from the five OSLI member companies in June, holding a two-day workshop to determine exactly what the duties and tasks of water treatment operator are. A second two-day workshop was held, this time with water treatment specialists. After consolidating data, and comparing and including best practices from the five companies’ current internal training programs, the Water Management Group sent out an expression of interest to several post-secondary institutions in Alberta.
“We’re very excited about the response from these institutions,” reports Operator Training Project Lead Duane Kichton. “A lot of effort was put into their bids, we had several phone calls expressing interest and wanting to learn more... the tough part is picking one institution to work with.”
Over the next 12 months, the winning bid institution will be fully engaged in developing a program based on the OSLI companies’ early work – which determined the need and the nature of the knowledge and tasks inherent to Water Operator jobs. Enrolment in Canada’s first Water Treatment Operator training course designed for SAGD facilities is planned for September 2011. OSLI companies estimate an uptake of 30 new Water Operators a year, every year, for the next five to seven years. The intent is for the program to be self sustaining, where tuition costs cover the cost of running the program. Continual upgrading and updating to capture the newest technologies will also be a goal of the program.
“Everyone in OSLI’s water management group agrees,” says Kichton, “if you get water treatment right, it goes a long way towards everything else falling into place for SAGD. It’s a huge value add.” And it will provide another recognized career choice for today and the next generation of oil industry workers.