Oilsands Emissions Intensities 35% Lower than Previously Reported: Study

A new study conducted by top life cycle analysis experts at Stanford, the University of Calgary and University of Toronto has found that upstream oilsands emissions intensities are anywhere from 14 to 35 per cent lower than previously reported. The study compared recent data from 2018 to that used in Masnadi et al., which based its findings on data from 2015.

New technological advancements assessed in the study are also projected to further reduce upstream emissions from steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) operations by 14 to 19 per cent.

Funded by Alberta Innovates and Emissions Reduction Alberta, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of GHG Emissions of Oil Sands Reference Facilities and Emerging Technologies included a robust and transparent engagement process between experts and stakeholders throughout.

According to Alberta Innovates, both the Government of Alberta and participating companies (CNRL, MEG, Imperial) allowed for “…unprecedented access and assistance in interpreting both public and confidential operating data.”

All Canadians should be proud of the transparency displayed by our home-grown oil and gas producers. We should also be proud of the fact that our nation ranks number one out of the world’s top 20 oil reserve holders on environmental, social and governance metrics, and are global leaders when it comes to sustainable oil and gas production!

Stakeholder Comments

Laura Kilcrease, CEO of Alberta Innovates, says studies like this are essential to having an informed energy conversation in Canada:

“Informed discussion about Canada’s future energy mix requires accurate data. This new study shows that innovation has enabled reductions of GHG emissions in oil sands production, and emerging technologies provide the potential for even greater results.”

Steve MacDonald, CEO of Emissions Reduction Alberta, echoed Laura’s sentiment about paving the way to improved environmental performance through new technology and innovation:

“Putting forward the best available evidence from credible research is essential to both understanding and improving the performance of Alberta’s oil sands. This study will help accelerate the identification and development of the most promising solutions for the industry’s continued success in a lower emissions future.”

Dr. Joule Bergeson, Canada Research Chair in Energy Technology and Assessment from the Schulich School of Engineering at the University of Calgary, highlighted the importance of having accurate GHG emission profiles for industry:

“Given current climate targets and ambition to reduce GHG emissions globally, there is an increasing need to transparently demonstrate baseline GHG emissions and reductions achieved over time. This study is proof that open-source tools can estimate emissions of the oil and gas industry and can be further improved with more context specific data in the public domain. The emerging technologies assessed in this study show reductions on the order of 14 to 19% in upstream emissions and 1 to 2% on a full life cycle basis. This model of collaboration to improve public estimates will aid industry, policy makers and the public in making better climate-wise decisions.”


MEG Energy - Christina Lake SAGD Wellpad

Christina Lake SAGD Wellpad - MEG


Evaluated oilsands projects:

  • Horizon Mining Project – Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.
  • Kearl Mining Project – Imperial Oil
  • Christina Lake Regional Project SAGD – MEG Energy

Emerging technologies studied:

  • The enhanced Modified Steam And Gas Push (eMSAGP) technology developed by MEG Energy
  • The Solvent-Assisted SAGD (SA-SAGD) technology developed by Imperial

Oilsands Emission Intensity ReductionsCanadian oilsands producers emission intensity reductions world-class

Over the past several years, Canadian oil and gas workers have been pushing hard to reduce operational emission intensities within the sector. The innovative technological advancements these workers have masterminded are largely responsible for the substantial drop in intensities per barrel of oil produced we’ve seen thus far, technologies which are then shared by competing companies through the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).

COSIA is a one-of-a-kind organization committed to collectively reducing the environmental footprints of all participating oil and gas producers (of whom account for more than 90 per cent of oilsands production). Members of COSIA put aside competing interests and share leading-edge research and innovation to address some of the toughest problems faced by the industry.

For example, between 2012 and 2018, it was reported that COSIA members:

  • Reduced fresh water use intensity at in situ operations by 42%
  • Reduced GHG emissions intensity at in situ operations by 11%
  • Reduced water use from the Athabasca River at mining operations of 18%
  • Reduced GHG emissions intensity at mining operations by 9%

Over the past decade, Canada’s oilsands producers also invested more than $9.3 billion on research and development - notably higher than other global oil producers on a per-barrel basis - with the goal of improving GHG emission intensities and reducing water usage even further. These are just a few of the concurrent environmental initiatives underway by COSIA members.

We Should Be Proud!

Canada is one of the most transparent, regulated, and environmentally responsible oil and gas producers in the world. While there’s always more to be done on improving environmental footprints, we should be proud of what our oil and gas workers have been able to accomplish over the past several years!

We support Canadian oil and gas workers and their families, as well as those in the mining, forestry, fishing, agriculture, renewable and clean tech sectors. Taking action on climate and supporting our resource workers is not mutually exclusive; we can do both, and should if we want a strong and prosperous Canada now, and in the future!

Join us Today!

We invite you to join us online to learn more about Canada's world-class oil and gas industry at Twitter, Instagram and Facebook today! We hope to see you there!

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