Climate Change

The International Energy Agency states global energy needs will increase by more than 25 per cent between now and 2040. And while the use of oil in conventional passenger vehicles will decrease due to greater fuel efficiency and electric motors, it will continue to rise to support the petrochemical, shipping and transport sectors. Canada, with its highly regulated industries, can play a key role in providing the energy the world needs in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Operating in a low-risk jurisdiction, Syncrude is also unique in the oil sands industry regarding the energy we produce. We are a secure and reliable producer of a high quality, light, sweet crude oil in demand by North American refineries as it is already upgraded and requires less processing to make the energy and products we use every day.

While upgrading our oil relieves environmental pressures on downstream refiners, it results in more energy used upstream in our own operation which contributes to carbon dioxide (CO2), or greenhouse gas (GHG), emissions. Recognizing national and global efforts to balance increasing energy needs with carbon accountability, we are implementing an ambitious climate change strategy to identify new ways to operate so we can play our role in efforts across the industry and to ensure 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.

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 Energy.

GHG emissions and energy efficiency performance

Greenhouse gas emissions from Syncrude have remained relatively constant over the last five years. In 2018, our emissions were 10.21 million tonnes, or 0.13 tonnes CO2-equivalent per barrel. We consumed approximately 9.03 GJ of energy per cubic metre of product. While an improvement from the year previous, it was above our target of 8.65 GJ per m3. This was primarily due to reliability issues related to the June power outage and extended turnaround events.

Energy conservation is core to our business. In fact, extensive cogeneration processes are incorporated throughout our operation to recover waste heat for reuse. As a result, we do not use all the energy we produce and export excess electricity, included in our total GHG emissions calculation, to the Alberta grid.

Increased energy efficiency correlates directly to lower GHG emissions, and it also improves financial outcomes. As we continue to pursue the next generation of oil sands technologies and reliability improvements, energy efficiency remains a key factor when evaluating capital and maintenance projects.

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 $244 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). The CCIR applied a price of $30 per tonne on carbon and established compliance targets by comparing the emissions intensity performance within industrial sectors, under which Syncrude’s operation was separated into oil sands mined bitumen and oil sands bitumen upgrading. Targets were then set relative to the distribution of benchmarked emission intensities, such as those of a top quartile.

In June 2019, the newly-elected provincial government announced CCIR would be replaced with the proposed Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction (TIER) program. This would regulate 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 may be 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 will support 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 includes support for the Hydrology, Ecology and Disturbance (HEAD) program, a multi-year and multi-university research program focused on the role of climate on the landscape. 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

We have participated in the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) Climate Change Task Force. This task force led 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 supports its 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. Targets for 2018 were not met, resulting in a Level B rating for performance.

Performance data

Energy Use

Total energy consumption
(million GJ
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)
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 2018 GHG emission estimates were externally verified by Stantec.
4 Includes fund credit purchases paid to the Government of Alberta under the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER) for 2014-17 and the Carbon Competitiveness Incentive Regulation (CCIR) for 2018.

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