Air Quality2

Air Quality

We’re committed to managing and monitoring air emissions to protect the residents and ecological health of our local region. People who live in northeastern Alberta are entitled to good air quality, and we will responsibly manage our operations toward maintaining this in the years ahead.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO₂)

Emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) originate mainly from three fluid cokers and are managed through both dry and wet scrubbing technologies.

Other sources of SO2 include flaring and diverter stacks. When it is necessary to flare or divert gas, we take every possible action to reduce the duration of each incident. We will also decrease the amount of bitumen feed into the coker in order to minimize emissions. 

A flue-gas desulphurization (FGD) unit captures and converts SO2 emissions into an ammonium sulphate.


The ammonium sulphate is then used to produce fertilizer at an on-site third-party facility. Flue-gas desulphurization technologies are in use worldwide to control air pollution from coal plants, refineries, smelters and pulp and paper mills. The unit uses a wet process to remove SO2 and, as a result, a high amount of water vapour travels through the stack. SO2 recovery is around 96 percent. Unrecovered pollutants, such as ammonia, are emitted in trace amounts through the vapour. In response to stakeholder concerns regarding the visibility of the plume, investigations are underway to assess the options for the best technological or process solution to improve the unit’s performance and increase emissions recovery even further.

Syncrude saw SO2 emissions decrease by more than 50 per cent between 2013 and 2017.

Other Releases

Syncrude’s operating approval is based on our commitment to responsible environmental management, which includes meeting all regulatory requirements regarding air quality and emissions. In addition to sulphur dioxide, we monitor and report on other emissions such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)

A research study by Environment Canada published in Geophysical Research Letters in early 2012 reported that the level of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) emissions from the oil sands industry is comparable to those of large power plants or medium-sized cities. Nitrogen oxide is created as a result of combustion required to provide power, heat and steam for process units, as well as from mining fleet vehicle emissions.

Our primary goals with respect to minimizing NOx emissions are to move the maximum volume of material while consuming the least amount of fuel and to have engines that continue to reduce emissions per litre of fuel consumed. To achieve these goals, we focus on fuel quality, engine selection, operating and maintenance practices, and mine plan efficiency.

The installation of NOx/PM after-treatment devices on our medium-duty support equipment has decreased site-wide mobile NOx emissions per barrel by over 8% during the last five years.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

VOCs can contribute to poor air quality. Sources of VOCs at Syncrude include naphtha losses to our Mildred Lake Settling Basin and hydrocarbon vapours from storage tanks. To reduce naphtha losses, waste water streams are directed through two Naphtha Recovery Units – a technology developed by Syncrude in the 1980s. In addition, a leak detection and repair program is in place which complies with the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Code of Practice.

Regional Air Quality

The Athabasca oil sands region is the most heavily monitored area in the province. Air quality is monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA).

WBEA is a multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit, science-based organization that independently monitors air quality and terrestrial environmental effects in the region. It is headquartered in Fort McMurray and compromises environmental non-government organizations, First Nations, government, health agencies and industry.

WBEA also coordinates regional terrestrial and forest health monitoring. This has included coordinating a berry monitoring project with Elders of the Fort McKay First Nation. Further information, overviews of projects and study results can be found on the WBEA website.

 Content MonitoringStations


Syncrude is participating in efforts to reduce odours in the region.
Local stakeholders can report the presence of any odours to the 24-hour Alberta Energy and Environmental Response hotline at 1-800-222-6514. Government authorities then notify local industrial operators of the complaint and require them to assess their operations for possible sources of odours and take remediating action.

In the event of an operational upset or scheduled maintenance that could cause odours or affect air quality, we will notify impacted communities. In 2016, there were 26 odour complaints in the region attributed to Syncrude’s operation.

Local residents can also access real-time air quality data through the website of the Wood Buffalo Environmental Organization (WBEA).

For more information on odours and our actions to reduce their occurrence, visit our Sustainability Report.