Oil sands emissions intensities drop

December 17th, 2020


EDMONTON, AB – A new report concludes that when Alberta specific data is used, upstream GHG intensity numbers of oil sands production pathways are 14 to 35 per cent lower than previously published in Masnadi et al. Emerging technologies assessed in the study can further reduce upstream Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) emissions by 14 to 19 per cent.

The study, Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of GHG Emissions of Oil Sands Reference Facilities and Emerging Technologies was carried out by top life cycle analysis experts from Stanford, the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto. Experts engaged with stakeholders throughout the study improving the transparency and robustness of the results.

The Government of Alberta and companies participating in the study provided unprecedented access and assistance in interpreting both public and confidential operating data. This access allowed for a careful evaluation of open-source models, assessment boundaries and data inputs. Access allowed the experts to better account for the regional context of the upstream portion of the life cycle, individual projects, and the role of emerging technologies in reducing GHG emissions.

The study, funded by Alberta Innovates and Emissions Reduction Alberta, used OPGEE, an open source upstream GHG emissions model which estimates emissions consistent with company-reported data when boundaries and data inputs were aligned (within 1 to 4 per cent). When the boundaries were expanded to include all upstream activities and OPGEE inputs were modified to better reflect the Alberta context, oil sands industry-average pathway GHG intensities are reduced 14 to 35 per cent relative to the oil sands pathways modelled in the global life cycle study of crude supply, Masnadi et al. (2018).

“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.”

Laura Kilcrease, CEO, Alberta Innovates

“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.”

Steve MacDonald, CEO, ERA

“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.”

Dr. Joule Bergerson, Canada Research Chair in Energy Technology Assessment, Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary

This study also shows that above-average performing projects can reduce emissions estimates further. For example, the MEG Energy Christina Lake SAGD 2018 estimates are 65.7 kg CO2eq/bbl or 11 per cent lower than the 2015 SAGD average; and the Canadian Natural Resources Limited Horizon project’s 2018 emissions are estimated to be 93.3 kg CO2eq/bbl SCO or 32 per cent lower than the average 2015 naphthenic froth treatment pathway from Masnadi et al., even when both estimates are derived using regional inputs.

In addition, Imperial’s Kearl mining project 2018 emissions are estimated to be 54.7 kg CO2eq/bbl or 30 per cent lower than the average 2015 PFT pathway from Masnadi et al.

Two emerging technologies assessed in the study could drive emissions down relative to SAGD. The estimate for eMSAGP is 14 per cent and SA-SAGD is a 19 per cent reduction relative to SAGD. Further, eMSAGP has been in commercial application, resulting in a GHG emission intensity of 55.7 kg CO2eq/bbl.

This is the most robust assessment of these oil sands projects to-date. It can serve as a model for customizing all global crudes using regionally specific factors to further improve global crude GHG emissions intensity of crude production, GHG emissions baselines and the transparent communication of emissions reductions achieved through innovation.

Kevin Duncan
Media Relations, Emissions Reduction Alberta

Dwayne Brunner – Manager, Media Relations  
Alberta Innovates

Background Information

The GHG emissions intensities of three existing oil sands projects and two new technologies were estimated in this study:

  • Canadian Natural Resources Limited’s Horizon mining project (surface mining (naphthenic froth treatment) + upgrading + refining, modeled);
  • Imperial’s Kearl mining project (surface mining (paraffinic froth treatment) + dilution + refining;
  • MEG Energy’s Christina Lake Regional Project (CLRP) Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) project (SAGD + dilution + refining);
  • The enhanced Modified Steam And Gas Push (eMSAGP) technology developed by MEG Energy;
  • The Solvent-Assisted SAGD (SA-SAGD) technology developed by Imperial.

Stanford’s OPGEE was used to estimate upstream GHG emission, the University of Calgary PRELIM was used estimate refinery GHG emission, and OPEM was used for estimate combustion GHG emission. The focus of the study was to calibrate the assumptions and input data in OPGEE with verifiable, real, and on-ground data provided by oil sands producers.

The study was recently published by the Journal of Cleaner Production. The study was led by Dr. Joule Bergerson, Canadian Research Chair in Energy Technology Assessment and Associate Professor at the University of Calgary.  Sylvia Sleep, Post-Doctoral Associate in the Schulich School of Engineering is the lead author and paper is coauthored by Joule Bergerson, Zainab Dadashi, Yuanlei Chen, Adam Brandt and Heather MacLean. A copy of the report is available for download.

For more than 10 years, Emissions Reduction Alberta has been investing the revenues from the carbon price paid by large final emitters to accelerate the development and adoption of innovative clean technology solutions. Since we were established in 2009, we have committed $611 million toward 185 projects worth over $4 billion that are helping to reduce GHGs, create competitive industries and are leading to new business opportunities in Alberta. These projects are estimated to deliver cumulative GHG reductions of 34.7 million tonnes by 2030.

Alberta Innovates invests in research, innovation and entrepreneurship to drive provincial economic growth and diversity. We ignite the power of innovation through our work with researchers, industry and entrepreneurs to move Alberta to a lower-carbon future, promote the responsible use of land and water, and contribute to the improved health and well-being of Albertans.

Alberta Innovates provides technical expertise, entrepreneurial advice and support, opportunities for partnerships, and funding to advance the best ideas. We support a broad range of research and innovation activity – from discovery to use. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do – bringing together bright minds and great ideas.