5 Interesting Facts on Alberta’s Energy Industry You Didn’t Know

interesting facts on Alberta's energy sector you didn't know cover

Alberta’s energy sector isn’t always given the benefit it deserves. Despite being a global leader in social, governmental and environmental initiatives, the industry is a regular target for opponents who often make false or misleading claims.

Let’s start having balanced discussions, shall we? For example, did you know:

  • Alberta's oil & gas sector is a world-class leader in gas flaring reductions
  • Alberta's oil sands industry has committed to net zero by 2050
  • Alberta is home to three-quarters of the wind and solar built in Canada in 2022
  • Alberta will produce up to 30% of its electricity supply from renewables by 2030
  • Alberta is home to one of the world’s most transparent and stringent energy regulatory regimes

With growing global demand for energy of all forms, we must recognize Alberta for what it is: a sustainable, reliable, and responsible energy producer that can increasingly meet more of the world’s energy needs. As one of the few major democratic energy producing jurisdictions globally, it only makes sense to look to Alberta for the energy we need today and tomorrow.

Here are several must-know facts on Alberta’s energy sector that will help bring much-needed balance to the conversation. Also see:

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#1 – Alberta’s Leadership in Gas Flaring and Venting Emission Reductions

Flaring is a necessary part of oil and natural gas production and processing. Fuel or waste gas is ignited at the end of a flare stack, helping to reduce the build-up of pressure in underground reservoirs and prevent blowouts [9].

When this gas is “flared,” there is an environmental impact as it is turned into carbon dioxide (CO2) and released into the atmosphere.

Alberta’s oil and natural gas sector has long been focused on reducing CO2 emissions associated with flaring. It was the first oil and gas producing jurisdiction to put mandatory regulations on flaring emissions, which began in the 1990s and continues to add new requirements to this day [1].

An example of Alberta’s recent success: between 2014 and 2019, the province reduced gas flaring and venting volumes by 30 and 65 per cent, respectively [1].

But let’s look at the bigger picture. If Alberta’s gas flaring and venting standards were applied worldwide, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with oil and natural gas production would drop 23 per cent [1].

That’s no small peanuts!

It’s clear the world has something to learn from Alberta’s world-class oil and natural gas sector on reducing venting and gas flaring emissions, don’t you agree?

#2 – Alberta’s Oil Sands Sector Committed to Net Zero by 2050

Pathways Alliance - Net Zero by 2050 Chart

Pathway to Net Zero by 2050 - Pathways Alliance

The shift towards sustainable and reliable supply chains means that industries have the opportunity to maintain their role in global markets by reducing environmental impacts.

Alberta’s oil sands sector is taking this challenge head-on.

Oil sands operators - responsible for roughly two-thirds of Canada’s annual oil production - have committed to operating with net zero emissions by 2050. The Pathways Alliance, a coalition of top companies accounting for 95 per cent of oil sands production [2], will accomplish this goal through a variety of means, including:

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS)
  • Process improvements
  • Electrification and fuel substitution
  • Energy efficiency improvements
  • Deployment of new tech (direct air capture) or offsets

To date, oil sands operators have announced $24 billion on emission reduction projects through 2030, with billions more to come by 2050. $16.5 billion will go towards developing an extensive CCS network in northern Alberta, with another $7.6 billion for research and development of new technologies such as direct air capture and determining the viability of using alternative energy sources such as nuclear and geothermal.

Further reducing oil sands emissions will ensure the longevity of an industry expected to generate USD $420 billion in revenues for Canadian governments from 2023 to 2050 while continuing to underpin the provincial and national economies at large.

#3 – Alberta is a National Leader in Wind and Solar Electricity

Canada’s oil and natural gas province is now recognized as more than just an oil and natural gas powerhouse. Today, Alberta is a national leader in wind and solar, home to more than three-quarters of wind and solar capacity built in Canada in 2022 [3].

Alberta has some of the best geography in Canada for solar power generation. The absence of large bodies of water on the prairies effectively helps to reduce cloud cover and precipitation, making these regions some of the sunniest places in the country.

Many communities in southeastern Alberta, for example, see more than 2,400 hours of sunshine annually. For perspective, some areas on the West Coast get only 1,200 to 1,400 hours of bright sunshine every year [4].

Alberta also has ideal geography for wind generation. The strong and steady winds in its southern region can be attributed to a combination of factors, such as:

  • Foothill topography which creates natural channels for wind flow
  • Varying terrain elevations and altitudes which can create turbulent weather conditions such as strong winds and storms
  • A semi-arid climate which can create atmospheric instability and lead to greater wind speeds

While fossil fuels still account for most of Alberta’s electricity supply, the province has emerged as a national leader in wind power generation. Between 2010 and 2017, for example, Alberta’s wind capacity doubled, and by 2023, wind capacity is expected to double again as the province continues on its path to net zero by 2050 [5].

Alberta’s build-out of renewables shows that we don’t have to choose between supporting one energy source over another. We can say “yes” to the responsible development of oil, natural gas, wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, and everything in between, for the benefit of local prosperity, energy security and sustainability efforts.

#4 – Alberta's Power Sector is a Leader in Emissions Reductions

Alberta power sector emission reductions chart AESO

Alberta Power Sector Emissions - AESO

Alberta stands as a national leader in the build-out of wind and solar generation, and will continue to pursue renewable energy projects as it moves towards net zero by 2050. Growing wind and solar energy capacity has the province on track to meet or exceed its target set in 2016 of generating 30 per cent of its electricity from renewables by 2030 [6].

Not too long ago, Alberta relied almost entirely on coal for electricity. In 2015, the province generated half of its power supply from coal, 41 per cent from natural gas, and just 7 per cent from renewables [7].  Since then, the province has pushed to either phase out coal-fired power plants or convert them to run on natural gas – a fossil fuel with up to 50% less emissions.

Coal and natural gas accounted for roughly 12 and 73 per cent of Alberta’s electricity generation in 2022, while renewables accounted for 13 per cent, respectively [7].

But the switch to renewables is just half the story. Alberta’s energy grid has been in transition for quite some time, accomplishing steady GHG emissions reductions for nearly two decades.

Between 2005 and 2020, Alberta’s power sector saw its total emissions drop by 40 per cent, largely driven by coal-to-gas switching, the increase in natural gas power generation, and continued growth in renewables [8].

More power sector emissions reductions are to come. The Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) predicts significant reductions in GHGs by 2035, modelling further reductions of anywhere from 43 to 87 per cent versus 2020 levels depending on the scenario [8].

Credit must be given where credit is due. Alberta’s energy industry – whether it be oil & gas, electricity, or renewables – is world-class. Don't let the naysayers have you think otherwise.

#5 – Alberta Has a World-Class Energy Regulatory Regime

Alberta’s energy sector includes a myriad of different industries: oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar, and an extensive network of pipelines and transmission lines to transport these resources to market.

Managing such a vast and complex system is no easy task. Alberta relies on a number of regulatory bodies to ensure that public and private sector companies operate in a safe, efficient, orderly, and environmentally conscious manner.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), for example, is responsible for keeping coal, oil, natural gas and pipeline companies in check as they develop natural resources across the province. The AER is involved in every stage of an energy project’s life cycle, including:

> Review of and decisions on tens of thousands of proposed energy developments annually

> Oversight of planning, construction, operation and closing activities

> Regular inspection of energy activities to ensure requirements and processes are followed by energy companies in Alberta

> Education to prevent non-compliances and enforcement of penalties on companies who do not follow the AER’s regulatory framework

A great example of the AER’s world-class requirements for energy developments includes the required reclamation of disturbed lands.

When an energy company applies for a project – regardless of its size – it must have a reclamation plan in place for when operations cease. This applies to upstream oil and gas production sites, sweet and sour gas plants, pipelines, coal mines and processing plants, oil sands mines and processing plants, coal and oil sands exploration programs, heavy-oil processing plants, in-situ oil sands operations, and oil production sites.

Reclamation is just one of many examples of world-class regulations in Alberta’s energy sector.

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Let’s start having balanced conversations on Alberta’s energy sector and its role as one of the most stable, responsible and reliable energy producers on the planet.

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1 – https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/7483e660-cd1a-4ded-a09d-82112c2fc6e7/resource/75eec73f-8ba9-40cc-b7f4-cdf335a1bd30/download/epa-emissions-reduction-and-energy-development-plan.pdf

2 - https://pathwaysalliance.ca/foundational-project/carbon-capture-and-storage-safety/#:~:text=Our%20companies%20represent%20about%2095,oil%20sands%20operations%20by%202050

3 - https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/weather/climatechange/climate-action/powering-future-clean-energy/overview-alberta.html

4 - https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/sun-shines-on-prairies-1.6287193

5 - https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/en/data-analysis/energy-commodities/electricity/report/canadas-renewable-power/provinces/renewable-power-canada-alberta.html#:~:text=Fossil%20fuels%20generate%20most%20of,out%20of%20coal%2Dfired%20generation.

6 - https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/weather/climatechange/climate-action/powering-future-clean-energy/overview-alberta.html

7 - https://www.auc.ab.ca/annual-electricity-data/

8 - https://www.aeso.ca/future-of-electricity/albertas-power-system-in-transition/#:~:text=Greenhouse%20gas%20emissions%20from%20Alberta's,and%20continued%20growth%20in%20renewables

9 - https://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/gasflaringreduction/gas-flaring-explained#:~:text=Gas%20flaring%20allows%20operators%20to,by%20burning%20any%20excess%20gas

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