Oil Sands Environmental Impact Alleviated With Greater Greenhouse Gas Emissions Control

Posted by Chris Wilson

Jun 19, 2013 12:20:00 PM

Alberta’s Oil Sands operators are beginning to take a greater level of control over greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in their projects as environmental impact and cost savings become higher priorities, according to the latest available government data from the province analysed by CanOils. Whilst GHG emissions from Alberta’s oil sands projects did rise by 0.3 million tonnes between 2010 and 2011 from 49.7 to 50 million tonnes respectively, oil sands production grew at a much higher rate, 9%, from 510 million barrels in 2010 to 558 million barrels in 2011, meaning that on a per barrel basis, the picture is far more positive.


Source: CanOils Source: CanOils

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The reason Alberta’s production was able to grow at a higher rate to the level of GHG emissions was that oil sands operators’ continued drive on efficiencies. 2011 saw a cut of 7% to the oil sands extraction GHG intensity in the province, decreasing from 73 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emitted per barrel of bitumen produced in the industry in 2010 to 68 kg CO2e/bbl. Mining operations, of which only two projects reported as independent operations from upgraders, were able to cut their emissions drastically with a 26% drop in intensity during the same period to 38 kg CO2e/bbl. One reason for the significant cut was due to the ramping up of operations at the Shell (RDS-A) Jackpine Mine, where increased production brought down emission intensity per barrel. Data from the 2 reporting mining operations showed that in situ operations were the most intensive of Alberta’s varied oil sands extraction methods, emitting more than twice the CO2e per barrel compared to mining operations. In Situ projects still lag behind mining projects in terms of overall production, producing 53% less in 2011 with 641 mbbl/d of bitumen, compared to mining operations’ levels of 888 mbbl/d. Upgrading projects also improved GHG intensity, reducing CO2e per barrel of upgraded bitumen emissions by 8%, representing a fall from 49 kg CO2e/bbl in 2010 to 45 kg CO2e/bbl in 2011. Overall, extraction efficiencies have increased (worsened) 6% on a per barrel since 2004, as operators have try to get a grip on ramping up production and scaling up operations while keeping emissions down, but the 2011 figures are definitely a cause for positivity.


Source: CanOils Source: CanOils

Cutting emissions at the project level is not just about reducing the environmental impact of projects; it is also a gauge to a more efficient project with lower operating costs; less energy is being used to create heat for the operations, which is a major contributor to emission levels for all oil sands operations. In 2011, the Foster Creek project, operated by Cenovus Energy Inc. (CVE), had the lowest industry CO2e per barrel of the In Situ projects, emitting an average of 51.04 kg CO2e per barrel of bitumen produced. Jackfish, operated by Devon Energy Corp. (HSE), was the second most efficient project producing only 55.52 kg CO2e per barrel. Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technology made up all of the top five least intensive emitters, while Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS), which is applied at Imperial Oil’s (IMO) Cold Lake and Canadian Natural Resources’ (CNQ) Primrose/Wolf Lake operations, account for only 2 of the 10 least intensive projects on a per barrel basis.

This drive for efficiencies is definitely leading to a more positive outlook for the eventual environmental impact the oil sands industry will have. Especially encouraging is the trend for 2011 that Alberta’s operators are starting to get to grips with controlling GHG emissions as production grows; the graph below shows a clear correlation between lower emissions per barrel and larger production.


Source: CanOils Source: CanOils

Total Share of 2011 CO2e Emissions by Project (In Situ)


Source: CanOils Source: CanOils

Details of this analysis are available exclusively to CanOils subscribers. 2004 to 2011 total and kg/barrel GHG emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and their respective equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) on an individual project level are available within the CanOils Oil Sands product.

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Due to previous double accounting in the data set in the original CanOils article dated June 19th, 2013, this article was corrected and republished on July 5th, 2013. The items double accounted were Syncrude Mining and Upgrading operations, which affected the total emissions and intensity per barrel calculations.

Three oil sands mining, twenty in situ, four upgrading and three integrated projects reported their 2011 GHG emissions, the data on each is available in the CanOils oil sands product.

Greenhouse gases are those gases in an atmosphere that absorb and emit radiation within the thermal infrared range. The main greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere are water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. CanOils tracks carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and their respective equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2e) release per barrel and by total for every oil sands project. In the CanOils database, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone emissions are converted to CO2 equivalent based on the US Environmental Protection Agency Global Warming Potential (GWP) factors under which CO2 has a GWP of 1, methane a GWP of 21 and Nitrous oxide a GWP of 310.

Syncrude is raw produced bitumen that has been upgraded to synthetic crude oil.

Air pollutant emissions data were compiled in collaboration with provincial, territorial and regional environmental agencies by Environment Canada, National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). Facilities report their own pollutant release and transfer data to Environment Canada. Only facilities emitting the equivalent of 50,000 tonnes are reported and therefore pilot projects are not included. Total oil sands emissions data refers to total project coverage in the CanOils database.

There are two main ways of extracting oil sands – Mining, in which the bitumen is located within 80-100 meters of the surface and In Situ whereby the bitumen is located in deeper reservoirs and is produced using steam injection or other enhanced recovery methods.



Topics: E&P, Canada, Independents, Oil Sands, Integrated, Majors

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