​Oilsands GHG intensity dropping, on track for continued improvement: IHS Markit

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

Canada’s oilsands is generally viewed as one of the world’s most GHG-intensive sources of oil, but this is changing, according to a new report from IHS Markit.

Some projects already have GHG intensity that is at or near the average North American barrel, and the industry as a whole is well on its way to major reductions.

Upstream oilsands GHG emissions intensity fell by 21 percent from 2009 – 2017, and could fall by an additional 16 to 23 percent over the coming decade, IHS Markit said.

The reductions over the last decade have been driven primarily by improvements in oilsands mining operations, with the comparatively young in situ methods still in the early stages of optimization.

IHS Markit’s analysis assumes only incremental improvements in SAGD production over the next decade, for example. As a result, the numbers could be conservative, executive director Kevin Birn said in a statement.

“SAGD is still a relatively new process and has yet to undergo any of the transformational changes that occurred in mining,” he said.

“We intentionally excluded any transformational technologies under development in the oilsands and only factored for the deployment of commercial or near-commercial technologies or efficiencies, only existing trends.”

IHS Markit also noted the high degree of project-by-project variability in oilsands GHG intensity and cautioned against overgeneralization of industry averages. The report found that, when placed on a full life-cycle basis, oilsands GHG intensity in 2017 ranged from 1 percent below to 16 percent above the average crude oil refined in the United States.

“Oilsands facilities are diverse and so are their emissions. A focus solely upon the average may lead to over generalizations and may not represent the reality of any one individual operation,” Birn said. “There are some operations today that appear to be at or near the U.S. average already.”

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