The Wall Street Journal Should Correct Itself on Canada’s Oilsands

The Wall Street Journal Should Correct Itself on Canada's Oilsands

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is one of the largest newspapers in the world with one of the largest followings, therefore you are inclined to believe that it does everything it can to disseminate balanced and fact-based journalism to its readers.

However, a recent post by the organization titled “One of the World’s Dirtiest Oil Patches Is Pumping More Than Ever” discussing Canada’s oilsands is anything but fair or balanced.

Inside this article, we find several factual inaccuracies and general misinformation that paints a picture of Canada’s oilsands sector as “…one of the most environmentally unfriendly” in the world. But we know that is just not true.

In fact, Canada’s oilsands sector is a global leader on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics. For example, of the world’s top 10 oil exporters, we rank number one on indices such as the Environmental Performance Index, Sustainable Development Index, and Resource Governance Index.

Canada is also a global leader in cleantech and innovation, which has allowed our country to make substantial reductions in emissions intensities, water use intensities and gas flaring volumes in the oil and gas sector over the past several years and decades.

These are all important facts that have been left out of the WSJ’s article above. Why is that? Any avid researcher or writer should have discovered many of the facts we present in this article from reputable sources through a quick Google search online.

Let’s shine some more light on the facts that show why Canada should be a preferred supplier of choice in a world that is projected to see continued strong oil demand for decades to come.

The WSJ suggests that Canada is “one of the world’s dirtiest oil patches” -- but we know that’s not true, and Canada’s efforts to improve environmental impacts are not recognized

A 2014 study by researchers at the California Environmental Protection Agency found that 13 local oil fields plus oil blends originating in 6 other countries produced higher levels of upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than Canadian blends.

And since then, Canada’s oilsands sector has done more to improve its emissions profile. According to a report by BMO Capital Markets, since 2013 the reported intensity among oilsands companies dropped 23 percent versus 13 per cent for global Majors.

So, the question remains: what would the same Californian researchers find if they were to compare global oil blend emissions in an updated 2021 study?

oil sands emissions intensities up to 35% lower than previously reported

While we don’t know for sure, what we can do is look to a separate 2020 study by researchers at Stanford, the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto that found Canada’s oilsands emissions intensities were up to 35 per cent lower than previously reported. The study compared 2015 and 2018 data to come to its conclusions – a significant difference within just three years!

Furthermore, the WSJ should consider GHG’s in their full context because up to 80 per cent of lifecycle emissions come from usage by consumers. Today, Canada’s oilsands now emit just 4 to 5 per cent more than the global average crude over the lifecycle from production to end-use, with several projects reflecting below-average footprints says BMO.

Perhaps Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Agency (IEA), said it best during the virtual launch of the IEA’s Canada 2022 report on January 13th.

Canada's oilsands should be a preferred global supplier for future generations

“We will still need oil and gas for years to come… I prefer that oil is produced by countries… like Canada who want to reduce the emissions of oil and gas,” Birol said.

The WSJ article referenced above does a disservice to readers by not recognizing how Canada’s oilsands sector is continually improving its overall environmental impact – which, according to leaders like Mr. Birol, should make our nation an oil supplier of choice.

The WSJ features an image of an oilsands mine -- when just a small percentage of the oilsands total land area could ever be developed this way

Canada’s oilsands cover approximately 142,000 square kilometres (km2) of land across parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Of that land area, only 3 per cent – or 4,800 km2 – could ever be impacted by mining.

That’s because the remaining 97 per cent of reserves are too deep to be mined and can only be extracted using technologies such as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) with minimal land disturbance. Additionally, about 80 per cent of reserves must be extracted using in-situ methods such as SAGD.

97% of canada's oilsands are too deep to be mined

If the WSJ did its homework, it would have learned that a typical SAGD oilsands has a footprint that is just 1/7th the area of an equivalent sized surface mining facility.

The WSJ and other organizations who use featured images of open-pit oilsands mines to portray an entire industry need to look at the facts. Given that a vast majority of oilsands extraction and land development must be through in-situ methods, using pictures of SAGD operations would be much more reflective of reality. 

The WSJ misrepresents Canada’s oilsands land surface area by 85,000 square kilometres and indirectly paints a picture that the entire oilsands area looks like an open-pit mine

Canada’s oilsands cover an area of approximately 142,000 km2. According to the WSJ, it's land surface area is apparently 227,000 km2 - or 85,000 km2 larger than it actually is. How can the WSJ be so wrong?

When combined with the featured image used in the article, the WSJ paints an image that the entirety of the oilsands looks like an open-pit mine. Indirectly, this gives all readers the impression that large swaths of Northern Alberta have been disturbed by land surface mining, which just isn’t the case.

Current figures for land disturbed by oilsands mining is approximately 1,032 km2 of 142,000 km2 – or 0.73 per cent of the oilsands total land area. Therefore, it is highly misleading to get the actual size of the oilsands wrong and indirectly mischaracterize its entire land area as a mining operation.

reclaimed oilsands mine before and after

Furthermore, oilsands development is subject to some of the strictest environmental regulatory standards in the world, which requires 100% reclamation after operations cease. Therefore, any disturbed land must be returned to a “self-sustaining ecosystem with local vegetation and wildlife.”

For example, one major oilsands producer has successfully reclaimed an open-pit mine where now a herd of more than 300 bison live and roam. To add, as part of reclamation efforts, oilsands producers have planted more than 26 million trees between 2009 and 2018 (BMO).

If these facts were included in the WSJ’s article, it would provide much-needed insight into how Canada’s oilsands industry is world-class when it comes to environmental mitigation and protection.

The WSJ says major oil companies, under pressure from environmentalists, are divesting from Canada’s oilsands and implies this is somehow good for the world

Divestment away from Canada’s energy sector does nothing to keep oil and gas in the ground. All this does is cede market share to less environmentally friendly producers often with much weaker protections for human rights and the environment.

Today, countries around the world are continuing to increase investment in oil and gas production. Many energy companies that are reducing their exposure to the oil sands are now investing in other regions of the world such as Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

On a comparative basis, Canada ranks much higher than all other major global oil producers except for Denmark and Norway on the following ESG-related indexes:

Canada's world-class record on oil and gas production versus other nations

And in many instances, other major global oil producers don’t even have the regulatory transparency or reporting required to meaningfully participate in studies surrounding GHG emissions.

Who would you choose to get your oil from in a world that continues to defy all “peak oil” predictions and reach new record levels of consumption? From:

  1. transparent producers with world-class standards of regulatory oversight and reporting?
  2. or, from producers who don’t report enough information to provide researchers with a reliable estimate of their emissions intensities?

Canada's oil and gas sector ESG record versus other global nations

We believe that the answer is clear, that option A (Canada) is the best choice. After all, more Canadian oil on domestic and global markets is good for our families and the global environment.

The WSJ’s failure to acknowledge the effects that divestment away from the oilsands has on the global environment is a detriment not only to our families, but also to the high standard of journalistic integrity it says it upholds.

The WSJ fails to acknowledge other important facts about Canadian oil and gas

Other facts not presented by the WSJ surrounding the oilsands are numerous, including the sector’s leadership in collaboration initiatives, resource governance, transparency, net zero commitments and carbon capture.

For example, Canada’s oilsands sector is a global leader in industry collaboration through the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). A unique alliance rarely seen between competing bodies across the globe, COSIA brings oilsands producers together to focus on improving environmental performance through collaboration and innovation.

Reflective of the industry’s leadership in cleantech and innovation, oilsands companies accounting for more than 90 per cent of production have also made an unprecedented commitment to reach net zero by 2050. In a world that is ever increasingly focussed on environmental outcomes, this is unheard of!

Oilsands producers are also a major supporter and employer of Indigenous communities. According to a survey conducted by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers:

> Oilsands companies spent $2.4 billion on procurement from Indigenous businesses in 2019, about 16 per cent higher than in 2018 and 53 per cent higher than in 2017.

> The number of Indigenous suppliers to the oilsands has grown to 275 in 2019, up from 263 in 2017

> Cumulative spending by the oilsands with Indigenous suppliers totals $5.9 billion between 2017 and 2019

Canadian oil & gas facts for the Wall Street Journal

global oil producers carbon pricing world map

We encourage the WSJ to pick and choose any of these facts below and incorporate them not only into the referenced article, but also those it chooses to publish in the future about Canada's oilsands:

  • Oilsands emissions intensity has decreased by 44 per cent since 1995 (BMO)
  • By 2030, oilsands emissions intensity is expected to improve another 16 to 23 per cent (IHS Markit)
  • Canada’s largest oilsands producers have made an unprecedented commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 (COSIA)
  • Between 2009 and 2018, oilsands producers planted more than 26 million trees as a part of reclamation efforts (BMO)
  • Canada’s oil sands sector has invested more than $9.3 billion into research and development since 2009 – notably higher than other major global oil producers on a per barrel basis (BMO)
  • Canada is home to the third-largest capacity of carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), a method of carbon reduction the IEA says will be instrumental in reaching net zero emissions (BMO)
  • If the rest of the world followed minimal flaring standards like those practiced in Canada, total GHG emissions from every barrel produced would drop by 23 per cent – equivalent to removing 100 million cars off the road worldwide
  • Oilsands producers are leaders in water recycling, averaging 82 per cent of water use in 2019 versus 29 per cent for U.S. senior oils (BMO)
  • Gas flaring in Alberta has dropped by 57 per cent since 2000 despite significant growth in oil and gas production, making Canada one of the lowest gas flaring oil producers globally (BMO)
  • Between 2015-2019, Canada decreased its total volume of gas flared from oil and gas operations by 42 per cent (Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report: July 2020)
  • Canada was responsible for just 0.67 per cent of the 150 billion cubic metres (m3) of gas flared by oil companies around the world in 2019 (Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report: July 2020)
  • In 2007, Alberta was the first North American jurisdiction and one of the first in the world just behind the EU to take climate action with mandatory GHG emission reduction targets for large industrial emitters - like the oilsands sector (BMO)
  • Only 10.5 per cent of global crude oil production is subject to carbon pricing, with Canada accounting for about 4.2 per cent of world production (NBF, World Bank, EIA)
  • Canada is the only top oil reserve holder and major oil producing country that has sent up a satellite to track and monitor methane emissions from oil production (Government of Canada)

Let’s Have A Balanced Conversation

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The WSJ article referenced is riddled with so many factual inaccuracies and general misinformation that we’re not sure how it even made it off the editor’s desk.

In light of fair, balanced and fact-based journalism, we encourage the WSJ to include some of the facts we’ve presented above while also removing several of the statements made by the author that have proven to be wrong.

Help us keep the WSJ responsible to its own journalistic standards by sharing this blog on your social media accounts!

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