A Matter of Fact: Oil sands producers not greenwashing net zero plans

Pathways Alliance moving fast toward building one of the world's largest CCS projects

By Deborah Jaremko
The Pathways Alliance has extensive work underway on the environmental program for its proposed CCS project, involving 135 experts ranging from aquatic and wildlife biologists to archeologists and paleontologists who have spent more than 1,600 hours in the field working to minimize environmental disturbance. Photo courtesy Pathways Alliance

Greenpeace has filed a complaint with the Competition Board of Canada claiming that the oil sands Pathways Alliance is “greenwashing” about its plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.  

Oil sands producers are not greenwashing. Here are the facts.  

Fact: Carbon capture and storage works 

Pathways is an alliance of six companies representing 95 per cent of oil sands production. The anchor project of the group’s target to reduce emissions by 22 million tonnes by 2030 on the way to net zero by 2050 is carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.  

According to experts including the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), expansion of CCS operations around the world is vital to achieve climate targets.  

Canada is already a leader in CCS, with five of the world’s 30 commercial CCS facilities. This accounts about 15 per cent of global CCS capacity even though Canada generates less than two per cent of global CO2 emissions. 

Since 2000, CCS projects in Saskatchewan and Alberta have removed more than 47 million tonnes of emissions, or the equivalent of taking more than 10 million cars off the road. 

Fact: Pathways is moving fast toward building one of the world’s largest CCS projects 

The first phase of the Pathways CCS project will connect 14 oil sands facilities to a CO2 storage hub in northern Alberta. At an expected cost of $16.5 billion by 2030, it is a huge undertaking.  

A $10 million engineering contract has been awarded, early engagement is underway with more than 20 Indigenous communities, and 135 environmental experts are conducting field work to support a regulatory application.  

The reality is it is impossible for the group to invest billions right now because its CCS project has not been approved by governments to proceed.  

Building major projects around the world happens in phases. Spending increases over time as work moves through phases of feasibility studies, to procurement of equipment, and then construction. Pathways is in the feasibility studies phase and working on all the items governments require and plans to file its application in late 2023. 

Fact: Scope 1 is the best place to start reducing emissions 

The complaint says that the Pathways plan to achieve net zero is not credible because it does not yet include the full value chain of emissions.  

This is otherwise known as all of Scope 1 (emissions an entity makes directly), Scope 2 (emissions an entity makes indirectly like from electricity use), and Scope 3 (emissions from everything all the way down to the end-use of an entity’s products, like gasoline in a car).    

The Pathways plan starts with Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions but will ultimately include Scope 3, president Kendall Dilling recently told BNN Bloomberg 

“We wanted to really start with our own business first and take care of our own backyard,” he said.  

“We are looking at ways we can partner with end users of our product to also tackle the consumption emissions, and over the course of this path to net zero we’ll be coming at this from all ends of the spectrum.”  

In order to be effective, emissions reduction strategies should focus first on the fastest and most effective solutions while developing long-term answers.

It makes sense that a company should start with Scope 1 and Scope 2, or emissions that are within its direct control.  

Fact: Canadian oil benefits Canadians and the world 

The complaint takes issue with the fact that oil sands production is growing. Activists would prefer that the industry reduce production and shut down. But shutting off Canada’s ability to supply oil to the world would have no impact on how much oil the world uses, or how much emissions that use generates.   

The International Energy Agency projects that oil and gas will still meet 47 per cent of world energy demand in 2050, compared to about 52 per cent today.  

Shutting down Canada’s oil sands would only shift supply to regions that are less responsible actors in areas like social progress, environmental protection and worker safety. Meanwhile, it would rob Canadians of huge economic activity and opportunity for economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities.  

As IEA executive director Fatih Birol said last year, “We will still need oil and gas for years to come… I prefer that oil is produced by countries… like Canada who want to reduce the emissions of oil and gas.”  

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