Forever and for Always - Canada's Energy Industry Steps Up Carbon Capture Efforts in the Oil Sands

New and expanded efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide, have been making headlines globally on a daily basis for a while now. Canada’s energy industry has been increasingly contributing to that newsfeed this year, with two large projects announced in Alberta that will capture, use, and sequester large volumes of CO2 generated from the oil sands as well as other sources of oil and gas production in Western Canada. In today’s blog, we review the emissions profile of the Canadian oil and gas sector and discuss two of the largest carbon capture, use, and sequestration projects announced to date.

It seems you cannot open your e-mail, scan a news website, or — better yet — read an RBN blog, without some mention of a new initiative to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, especially among those who produce, transport, and refine hydrocarbons. As part of our expansion into ESG themes and our ongoing The Air That I Breathe series on using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery, we felt it was important to consider what has been happening with respect to CO2 reduction initiatives in Canada’s energy industry, and especially the oil sands, a sector often unfairly maligned as a massive contributor to Canadian and global GHG emissions.

Given the oil sands’ reputation among environmental activists, it may be surprising to hear that Canada’s carbon footprint has changed very little over the past two decades — a period during which oil sands production has doubled. According to Canada’s federal government, the country’s overall GHG emissions didn’t stray far from the 700-725-million-metric-tons-per-year-of-CO2-equivalent range between 2000 and 2019, the last year with published data available (height of stacked bar segments and left axis in Figure 1). Although not part of the government’s dataset, it would be reasonable to expect that Canada’s 2020 GHG emissions declined due to the suppression of economic activity tied to the COVID pandemic. In fact, BP’s latest statistical review estimates that Canada’s emissions fell by about 11% last year, which would place emission levels at the lowest since 1994, or about 652 million metric tons (MMT).

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