Oil Sands Operators Confident They Can Meet Canada’s Net Zero Goals

An industry that has employed thousands of Canadians, generated billions of dollars in economic investment and annual government revenue is facing perhaps its biggest challenge yet: dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a relatively short time.

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Alberta’s oil sands sector generates about 70 million tonnes of emissions each year, about one-tenth of Canada’s total emissions profile.

The industry itself has recognized that it needs to drastically reduce these emissions, and this was the main topic of conversation at the annual oil sands conference and trade show in Fort McMurray.

“With what we’ve solved for the past five decades, I’m not too worried that our industry won’t solve the next one,” Drew Zieglgansberger said during a public luncheon on the second day of the conference.

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Zieglgansberger is executive vice president of Cenovus Energy and oversees the company’s environmental innovations.

Cenovus is one of six major oil sands operators that have joined together to form the Pathways Alliance, a team effort to achieve net zero by 2050.

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The other players are Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources, MEG Energy, Imperial Oil and ConocoPhillips. The six companies operate approximately 90% of Canada’s oil sands production.

“If you think back to the oil sands decades ago, I think a lot of people were trying to figure out, ‘How do we make this economically viable? ‘” Zieglgansberger told Global News at the oil sands conference.

“The challenge we have today is that people are asking, ‘Can you make this environmentally sustainable?'”

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Oil industry seeks federal funding to decarbonize tar sands

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The Pathways Alliance has some preliminary thoughts on how to make this happen.

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The first foundational project involves installing carbon capture, utilization and storage technology at eleven different facilities and routing those emissions to an underground storage site more than 200 kilometers south near Cold Lake.

“It’s going to take carbon capture and storage, it’s going to take small modular nuclear reactors, it’s going to take innovation and AI machine learning, it’s going to take all of the above,” Zieglgansberger said.

This will require significant government support.

Ottawa has already outlined the design of a carbon capture technology tax credit, and the Alberta government has announced a series of investments from its TIER fund – the provincial tax on large emitters – to help industry to fund projects to reduce emissions.

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The trade show attached to the conference included hundreds of delegates from companies that outsource their services to the oil sands sector, eager to help meet this challenge.

“We’re a bit of an innovative chemical supplier,” Curt Benson told Global News at the show.

Benson is the sales manager for chemical supply company Novamen, based in Blackfalds, central Alberta.

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They not only supply traditional solvents to industry, but also solvents that help companies improve their environmental profile – from dust control to removing H2S from water.

“It’s a plant-based, completely harmless product that doesn’t alter water, shape or form in any way,” Benson said.

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