Efficiency Gains Offset by GHG Rise from Integrated Producers
While overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from oil sands operations are still rising, some producers are improving their environmental performance, according to the latest available government data analysed by CanOils, an Evaluate Energy service. Total GHGs from oil sands projects increased 9.3 percent to 62.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2010, this compared with an estimated 13 percent rise in production CanOils estimates. However, efficiency gains by in situ producers were offset by rising GHG per unit emissions from integrated producers. Emissions from integrated projects (those that both extract and upgrade bitumen) increased to an average 119 kg of CO2e per barrel of synthetic crude production in 2010, up from 113 kg per barrel in 2009. In contrast, emissions from in situ projects were down for a second consecutive year, emitting 79 kg for every bitumen barrel of production compared with more than 89 kg in 2007. The combined total average emissions in 2010 were 110 kg CO2e emissions per barrel.
Total oil sands production increased to over 1.4 million barrels a day in 2010, an increase of 13 percent on 2009 production for both integrated and in situ operations. In situ production accounted for 41 percent of the total, while integrated production made up the remaining 59%. Despite the increased efficiencies from in situ operations in 2010, the impact of larger producing integrated projects and the escalation in production have meant that total emissions in the oil sands have continued to grow. Integrated projects released 45 million tonnes of oil sands CO2e emissions in 2010, while in situ operations produced 18 million tonnes. These figures were up 9% and 10% respectively on 2009 total emissions.
For operators, cutting emissions at the project level is not just about reducing the environmental impact of their projects, it also means a more efficient project and lower operating costs. For in situ projects this is due to the large amount of emissions created by burning natural gas to steam raw bitumen out deep within the oil sands deposits. The efficiency measure for this process is called the steam-to-oil ratio (SOR); as a general rule a low SOR equates to lower emissions per barrel and lower operating costs. In 2010 the Christina Lake project, operated by Cenovus Energy Inc. had the lowest CO2e per barrel of the in situ projects with an average 48.3 kg CO2e emissions per barrel of bitumen produced. Foster Creek which is also operated by Cenovus, was the second most efficient project producing only 53.3 kg CO2e per barrel. The top ten most efficient projects utilised Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technology as opposed to Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS), utilised extensively in Imperial Oil’s Cold Lake operations. The graph below, taken from the CanOils Oil Sands Service, shows how larger projects have better unit efficiencies.
23 oil sands extraction and 7 upgrading or integrated projects reported their 2010 GHG emissions, making up 30 of the largest 163 Albertan and 537 total Canadian facilities required to report data. Alberta accounted for 47 percent of total Canadian emissions and oil sands operations approximately 6.9 percent of the total; second to Alberta, Ontario contributed 21 percent. Overall Canada’s 2010 emissions remained stable, increasing by only 0.25 percent to 692 megatons, while the economy grew 3.2 percent in this time.