There is an ongoing false narrative that Canada’s oil and gas industry has a poor track record when it comes to the environment. It’s not true.
Canada’s oil and gas producers and suppliers are committed to environmental excellence, and are doing the work to show it. Here are five key points that demonstrate it:
- Investment in environmental protection and energy cleantech
Canada’s oil and gas industry leads the country in environmental protection spending and energy cleantech.
According to Statistics Canada, environmental protection spending is money used to prevent, reduce or eliminate pollution or other environmental degradation, or restore the environment from a degraded state.
Canada’s oil and gas producers spent $3.1 billion in 2019 (the most recent year of available data). This is two-thirds of all environmental protection spending in the country and more than triple the next-highest industry spend, mining and quarrying, at $882 million.
Canadian oil and gas companies also invest an average of $1 billion per year on research and development, a total of $10.6 billion since 2012.
This investment is used to advance new technologies and approaches to reduce environmental impacts like greenhouse gas emissions, water use and oil sands tailings.
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- Success in reducing oil sands tailings
Canada’s oil sands producers reduced so-called “legacy tailings” by 24 percent – or nearly 240 million cubic meters – over the last five years.
That’s the equivalent volume of 95,800 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Tailings are a byproduct of mining operations around the world. In the oil sands, tailings are a mixture of sand, silt, clay, water and residual bitumen produced in the extraction process.
Legacy tailings are those that were in storage ponds before 2015. The successful removal of legacy tailings is contributing to a slower pace of growth of oil sands tailings overall, despite record oil production.
- Methane emissions are going down
Discussion around emissions reduction is often focused on carbon dioxide, but methane emissions reduction is also critical to meeting global climate targets.
Oil and gas producers in Alberta successfully reduced total methane emissions by 34 percent in 2020 compared to 2014.
Operators across the country are now expected to meet the target of reducing total methane emissions by 45 percent in 2025 compared to levels in 2012.
- Planting trees and reclaiming land
Since 2009, oil sands producers have planted over 25 million trees and reclaimed more than 8,000 hectares of land. In total, oil sands development has disturbed only 0.03 percent of Canada’s boreal forest.
- Oil sands on path to total emissions reduction
Canada’s oil sands producers are succeeding in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Average oil sands emissions per barrel, which are comparable to the average oil used by refineries in the United States, have declined by 20 percent since 2009.
Total emissions from the oil sands sector – not just emissions per barrel – are expected to go down within the next five years, even as production increases.
An alliance of virtually all of Canada’s oil sands producers has set the joint target to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Deborah Jaremko is director of content for the Canadian Energy Centre, an Alberta government corporation funded in part by taxes paid by industry on carbon emissions.
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