Climate Change

Recognizing international efforts to balance increasing global energy needs with carbon accountability, Syncrude is implementing an ambitious corporate strategy to identify new ways to operate so we can support Canada in addressing the critical issue of climate change as well as to ensure the long-term sustainability of our business.

Climate change strategy

Our strategy to reduce GHG emissions focuses on four main pillars – reliability improvements, energy management, technology development and offsets – with the goal to produce more barrels with less energy.

An executive-led steering committee is responsible for overseeing the climate change strategy and stewarding progress. A cross-functional technical team supports the execution of the strategy across the organization and engages operations personnel to identify, assess and implement opportunities. This engagement has so far resulted in a suite of projects that is driving operational efficiencies and could potentially reduce GHG emissions by a half million tonnes annually. Examples include a GHG performance tracker that facilitates discussions within each shift on how to drive carbon efficiency on a daily basis, enhancements to our recycled water system, and capturing natural gas liquids from our fuel gas stream.

GHG management and energy efficiency performance

In 2019, greenhouse gas emissions were 12.11 million tonnes, or 0.11 tonnes CO2-equivalent per barrel, and we used 8.17 GJ of energy per cubic metre of product. Both emissions and energy use intensity improved from previous years due to reliable plant operations and performance.

As one of the most thermally integrated industrial facilities in Canada, Syncrude has extensive processes built into the operation to maximize energy efficiency. For example, depending on production rates, the upgrader can produce up to 75 per cent of the total energy needed to produce heat at both our Aurora and Mildred Lake sites. This includes heat required for bitumen extraction processes and even for some of our buildings. Once all these efficiencies are used, we supplement with natural gas as needed. An imbalance between extraction and upgrading processes leads to higher energy use and emissions, as was the case in 2019 due to operational impacts related to the Government of Alberta’s curtailment program. Excess produced energy that cannot be used at a given time is exported to the Alberta electrical grid.

Energy Efficiency

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Note: Syncrude is a large producer of electricity and is a net exporter to the Alberta grid. Emissions from electrical power generation are included in the Syncrude total and are part of the intensity calculated on a per-barrel produced basis.

Meeting provincial carbon regulations

Syncrude has paid over $278 million in carbon levies since regulation was first introduced in Alberta in 2007. Up to 2016, the Alberta Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) was in place, which was then followed in 2018 by the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR). In 2019, the newly-elected provincial government announced CCIR would be replaced with the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program as of January 2020. This regulates large emitters that produce more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 to reduce their emissions intensity by 10 per cent compared to their average emissions between 2016 and 2018. Facilities are permitted to either reduce their emissions or use credits from facilities that have met and exceeded their targets, use emission offsets, or pay into the TIER Fund which supports technological research and development to reduce emissions.

Alberta Carbon Payments

Note: Includes fund credit purchases paid to the Government of Alberta under the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) and Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR).

Collaborative research solutions

Through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), we have collaborated on research to assess how water, energy and carbon are stored and travel within a reclaimed landscape as compared to natural undisturbed areas. This has included support of the Hydrology, Ecology and Disturbance (HEAD) program, a multi-year and multi-university research program focused on the role of climate on the landscape and ensuring long-term resilience of constructed ecosystems.

Other COSIA partners are investigating the use of satellite technology to provide more accurate and frequent measurements of fugitive GHG emissions from tailings ponds and mine faces. Learnings will be shared with all COSIA members.

Engagement and consultation

Syncrude participated in the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) Climate Change Task Force on the development of MAC’s Principles for Climate Change Policy Design, which supports establishing a broad-based carbon price that is applicable to all sectors of the economy.

Syncrude also participates in the MAC Towards Sustainable Mining (TSM) program and reports annually on our energy and GHG emissions management system. An external review occurs every three years. Our self-assessment of 2018 performance confirmed our management and reporting processes as being very strong with a rating of Level AAA. However, due to reliability issues related to a power outage and extended turnaround event, energy and GHG targets for 2018 were not met, resulting in a Level B rating for performance.

Our product in a North American context

Our operation is unique in the oil sands industry. Our light, sweet crude oil is an upgraded, high quality product which requires less processing by refineries to make the energy and products we use every day. While upgrading our oil relieves downstream environmental pressures and emissions, it results in more energy used in our own operation which then contributes to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. According to a study by research firm IHS Energy, on a well-to-wheels basis, a barrel of synthetic crude oil produced from mining operations such as Syncrude are about nine per cent more energy intensive than the average barrel refined in the United States.

Full-Cycle GHG Emissions Oil Sands and U.S. Refined Crudes

Oil sands crude has similar CO2 emissions to other heavy oils. Synthetic crude oil from mining operations such as Syncrude are nine per cent more intensive than the average U.S. barrel refined in the United States on a well-to-wheel basis. Source: IHS Markit.

Performance data

Energy Use

Total energy consumption1 (million GJ)137.0129.8137.7132.8140.9
Energy intensity
(GJ per cubic metre produced)

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

(million tonnes)
(tonnes CO
2e per barrel produced)
(tonnes CO
2e per cubic metre produced)
Alberta Carbon Payments4
($ million)

1 Total energy consumption includes natural gas, internally produced fuels, and purchased/sold energy such as electricity and diesel. It is not adjusted for inventory increases or decreases.
2 Syncrude is a large producer of electricity and is a net exporter to the Alberta grid. Emissions from electrical power generation are included in the Syncrude total and are part of the intensity calculated on a per-barrel produced basis.
3 Syncrude’s 2019 GHG emissions were externally verified by Stantec.
4 Includes fund credit purchases paid to the Government of Alberta under the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) for 2015-17 and the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR) for 2018-19.

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