Suncor, Canada’s largest oil sands producer is exploring the functionality of autonomous heavy haul trucks for use when transferring open-mine oil sands to processing facilities. Mining.com explains that Suncor will start a one-year pilot program for six 400-ton Komatsu autonomous haul trucks as part of an assembly-line style operation. Why is this news so important for other oil sands operations? One word: technology.

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The current state of oil and gas is a bit gloomy right now. Contrary to the belief that a U.S. Republican oval office will help build-up crude oil prices, the United States post-election results have not supported the claim. Oil prices have dropped a bit to $44 bbl, +/- $1. Prices were speculated to rise above $50 by the end of 2016, but with 7 weeks left in 2016, it is clear that confidence is lacking in the crude oil market.

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Welcoming news came in on Monday, November 7 when a United States’ environmental, health and safety (EHS or HSE) administration gave the green light to Colonial Pipeline Company employees to restart service. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) gave the final approval Monday morning to allow pipeline workers to return to work after an unfortunate incident. The Colonial Pipeline, “the largest U.S. refined products pipeline system,” was out of commission since October 31, 2016 when the mainline exploded after being struck by a backhoe during a repair service. Sadly, one person was killed and five others were injured. This is the same pipeline that spilled 250,000 gallons of consumer gasoline near Birmingham, Alabama back in early September 2016.

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Believe it or not, the biggest threat to the oil and gas industry isn’t the $45 bbl, +/- $5 price we are seeing today. For the foreseeable future, there will be less conventional and more unconventional ways to retrieve crude as innovation continues, so product is not the issue. The real threat is that skilled workers will be retiring in the next few years creating a smaller pool of highly skilled workers to choose from, which is a major threat to businesses struggling to work with lower crude prices. The experts in oil and gas will be retiring leaving newly hired millennials with a keen eye for new technology to propel the industry. Businesses that have the foresight to appeal to millennials and younger employees will be more successful in the long run.

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