Recognizing international efforts to balance increasing global energy needs with carbon accountability, Syncrude is implementing an ambitious corporate strategy to identify new ways to operate so we can support Canada in addressing the critical issue of climate change and to ensure the long-term sustainability of our business.
Climate change strategy
Our strategy to reduce GHG emissions focuses on four main pillars – reliability improvements, energy management, technology development and offsets – with the goal to produce more barrels with less energy.
An executive-led steering committee is responsible for overseeing the climate change strategy and stewarding progress. A cross-functional technical team supports the execution of the strategy across the organization and engages operations personnel to identify, assess and implement opportunities. This engagement has so far resulted in a suite of projects that is driving operational efficiencies and could potentially reduce GHG emissions by a half million tonnes annually. Examples include a GHG performance tracker tool that facilitates discussions within each shift on how to drive carbon efficiency on a daily basis, enhancements to our recycled water system, and capturing natural gas liquids from our fuel gas stream.
GHG management and energy efficiency performance
In 2020, greenhouse gas emissions were 12.36 million tonnes, or 0.119 tonnes CO2-equivalent per barrel, which was slightly above our target of 0.118 tonnes. Our overall energy use was 148.4 million gigajoules at an efficiency of 9.03 gigajoules of energy per cubic metre of product.
As one of the most thermally integrated industrial facilities in Canada, Syncrude has extensive processes built into the operation to maximize energy efficiency. For example, depending on production rates, the upgrader can produce up to 75 per cent of the total energy needed to produce heat at both our Aurora and Mildred Lake sites. This includes heat required for bitumen extraction processes and even for some of our buildings. Once all these efficiencies are used, we supplement with natural gas as needed.
An imbalance between extraction and upgrading processes leads to higher energy use and emissions, as was the case in 2020 due to operational impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and low commodity prices. Unable to execute our planned major maintenance turnarounds because of public health restrictions, we carried out multiple, smaller maintenance projects throughout the year aimed at increasing overall long-term reliability, which then impaired our ability to sustain the efficiency of our heat integration processes. Our GHG tracker tool however enabled continued attention on managing emissions and we estimate intensity performance would have been three percent higher without its implementation.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Note: Syncrude is a large producer of electricity and is a net exporter to the Alberta grid. Emissions from electrical power generation are included in the Syncrude total and are part of the intensity calculated on a per-barrel produced basis.
Meeting provincial carbon regulations
Syncrude has paid over $281 million in carbon levies since regulation was first introduced in Alberta in 2007. Up to 2016, the Alberta Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) was in place, which was then followed in 2018 by the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR), and Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) in 2020. This regulates large emitters that produce more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 to reduce their emissions intensity by 10 per cent compared to their average emissions between 2016 and 2018. Facilities are permitted to either reduce their emissions or use credits from facilities that have met and exceeded their targets, use emission offsets, or pay into the TIER Fund which supports technological research and development to reduce emissions.
Alberta Carbon Payments
Note: Includes fund credit purchases paid to the Government of Alberta under the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER), Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR) and Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER).
Collaborative research solutions
Through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), we have collaborated on research to assess how water, energy and carbon are stored and travel within a reclaimed landscape as compared to natural undisturbed areas. This has included support of the Hydrology, Ecology and Disturbance (HEAD) program, a multi-year and multi-university research program focused on the role of climate on the landscape and ensuring long-term resilience of constructed ecosystems.
Other COSIA partners are investigating the use of satellite technology to provide more accurate and frequent measurements of fugitive GHG emissions from tailings ponds and mine faces. Learnings will be shared with all COSIA members.
Engagement and consultation
Syncrude participates in the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) program and reports annually on our energy and GHG emissions management system. An external review occurs every three years. An external audit for the 2019 reporting year confirmed our management and reporting processes to be very strong with a rating of Level AAA in both related indicators. We met our GHG target for 2019, but had not met them in three of the past four years. This is reflected in an A rating for the performance indicator. Further information on Syncrude’s TSM performance can be found at https://mining.ca/companies/syncrude-canada-ltd/.
Our product in a North American context
Our operation is unique in the oil sands industry. Our light, sweet crude oil is an upgraded, high quality product which requires less processing by refineries to make the energy and products we use every day. While upgrading our oil relieves downstream environmental pressures, it results in more energy used in our own operation which then contributes to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. According to a study by research firm IHS Markit, on a well-to-wheels basis, a barrel of synthetic crude oil produced from mining operations such as Syncrude are about nine per cent more energy intensive than the average barrel refined in the United States.
Full-Cycle GHG Emissions Oil Sands and U.S. Refined Crudes
Oil sands crude has similar CO2 emissions to other heavy oils. Synthetic crude oil from mining operations such as Syncrude are nine per cent more intensive than the average U.S. barrel refined in the United States on a well-to-wheels basis.
Source: IHS Markit.
|Total energy consumption1 (million GJ)
(GJ per cubic metre produced)
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
(tonnes CO2e per barrel produced)
(tonnes CO2e per cubic metre produced)
|Alberta Carbon Payments4
1 Total energy consumption includes natural gas, internally produced fuels, and purchased/sold energy such as electricity and diesel. It is not adjusted for inventory increases or decreases.
2 Syncrude is a large producer of electricity and is a net exporter to the Alberta grid. Emissions from electrical power generation are included in the Syncrude total and are part of the intensity calculated on a per-barrel produced basis.
3 Syncrude’s 2020 GHG emissions were externally verified by Dillion Consulting.
4 Includes fund credit purchases paid to the Government of Alberta under the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) for 2016-17, the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR) for 2018-19, and the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) for 2020.