Victoria firm helps to pinpoint crucial industry water supplies

A small Victoria firm is intent on making a big splash in the Alberta oil and gas market with a new online tool that puts the power of water into the hands of exploration companies.

Foundry Spatial, a six-year-old environmental consulting firm, has just launched the Alberta Water Tool, which provides real-time information on the quantity of water available in any location where exploration may take place.

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Founder and chief executive Ben Kerr said the tool draws water information from 30,600 surface and groundwater allocation points and 185 hydrometric stations for 181,000 unique watersheds in Alberta. He said that means companies will be able to make better exploration decisions and in a more timely manner.

Kerr, who started the company after working as a computer mapping specialist for the provincial government for eight years, said water has become a huge issue for the oil and gas industry, where hydraulic fracturing and shale gas are key players.

“It’s changed the whole industry. They need water to produce petroleum,” he said.

Kerr said the data they mine is readily available, but it can take days or weeks for consultants to pull it together in what is often a very costly report.

Instead, Foundry Spatial has built technology and a delivery system that allows exploration firms and government ministries to log into the database and produce a customized report on a specific area in real time.

“We do it at a fraction of the cost,” Kerr said. Foundry Spatial charges by volume. A single report would be $1,000, but a company that needs them often could pay as little as $400 each. “Companies want to do it themselves and do it now,” said Kerr.

The tool was originally developed by Foundry Spatial for the B.C. government, and the company is paid to maintain its technology and continue to provide the product.

The first version of the engine was developed in 2012 for the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and was recognized with a B.C. Premier's Award for Regional Innovation.

“It helps resource managers in government as well as water users get access to information about how much water there is, what existing demand is for it and what the environment needs all in a matter of seconds,” Kerr said.

The technology developed by Foundry collects the data, builds a computer model and extrapolates information from that about areas that are unknown.

“It lets you choose any spot you’re interested in and produce a report describing that exact location,” Kerr said.

Though it was just launched two weeks ago, Kerr has already secured one Alberta client, with another five expected to sign on in the coming months.

He said the quiet oil and gas market has helped, rather than hurt. “Our value proposition is efficiency,” he said. “So it’s an ideal time to launch a product in Alberta if a product is about saving people money.”

While oil and gas is driving the market for the product right now, Kerr said it has applications for mining, agriculture, forestry, First Nations and basically anyone who requires water.

“This technology [is] of interest to every single industry because every single industry depends on water,” he said.

The company has also developed tools that help people find and access environmental monitoring information, and is working on a product that will allow people to look at a specific location — such as their homes — and see what effect a massive earthquake would have on it.

“It will let them see what could potentially happen to their property and offer suggestions on how to mitigate the damage,” he said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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