Five ways Canada’s oil and gas industry is improving environmental performance

Results show continuous improvement on key performance measures

By Deborah Jaremko
Photo courtesy Cenovus Energy

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: 

  1. 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. Learn More 

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. Learn More 

  1. Success Reducing Oil Sands Tailings

Canada’s oil sands producers reduced so-called “legacy tailings” by 24 per cent – 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. Learn More 

  1. Methane Emissions Going Down

Discussion around emissions reduction is often focused on carbon dioxide, but methane emissions reduction is also critical to meet global climate targets.  

Oil and gas producers in Alberta successfully reduced total methane emissions by 34 per cent in 2020 compared to 2014.  

Operators across the country are now expected to meet the target of reducing total methane emissions by 40-45 per cent in 2025 compared to levels in 2012.  Learn More  

  1. Planting Trees and Reclaiming Land

Since 2009, oil sands producers have planted more than 25 million trees and reclaimed more than 8,000 hectares of land. In total, oil sands development has disturbed only 0.03 per cent of Canada’s boreal forest. Learn More 

  1. Oil Sands on Path to Total Emissions Reduction

Canada’s oil sands producers are seeing success in their efforts to reduce 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 per cent 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. Learn More 

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