Canadianization of the oilsands ‘super positive’ for performance improvement: Suncor CEO

Suncor CEO Mark Little address the company's annual meeting in May 2019. Image: Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The CEO of Suncor Energy says that while the exit of major international players from the oilsands has taken some capital out of the market and made it easier to demonize the industry, it has major benefits in terms of advancing performance improvement.

At the TD Securities Calgary Energy Conference last week, Mark Little said that companies that divest of Canadian oilsands resources in order to pursue lower-carbon natural gas development elsewhere aren’t making any meaningful impact on reducing global carbon emissions.

“When you go and extract carbon out of the barrel and change the signature and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it actually changes the world. It gets better,” he said, referencing the work of producers like Suncor to reduce emissions from oilsands production.

For example, the oil produced at Suncor’s new Fort Hills mine has GHG intensity that is on par with the average refined barrel in the United States thanks to paraffinic froth treatment technology, which Little has called “a different kind of finishing step.”

Suncor is also preparing to replace coke-fired boilers at its oilsands base plant with natural gas-fired boilers, which the company expects will reduce costs and its carbon footprint.

“When we put in cogens to stop running petcoke and export power to offset coal-based power generation, the world gets better,” Little said last week.

“Our focus as an industry is to do real things to drive things forward, and I think one of the things that’s a huge win is the fact that 15 years ago if anything wanted to happen in this industry, you literally had to go and ask a variety of foreign companies what they thought and how they would judge it.

"The joy of it now is the people who are at the table are Canadian companies with Canadian values working on Canada’s resource, and I think that is super healthy and super positive although it makes the communication challenge more challenging on the world stage, but I think we have to take the advantage and the positives associated with it and move forward.”

While a number of major international producers retain positions in the oilsands, including ConocoPhillips, Total, CNOOC, ExxonMobil an Chevron, the industry is dominated by Canadian companies — five of which are responsible for more than 80 percent of production.

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