Suncor CEO shines spotlight on oilsands partnership, need for collaboration to cut GHG emissions

Source: Suncor Energy Inc.

(Houston) — An “unprecedented global collaboration” like the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative is just the type of partnership needed to drive down emissions, says Suncor Energy Inc.’s chief executive.

“I think Canada will be a long-term provider of oil to the world because we are going to solve this and figure this out,” said Mark Little, president and CEO of Suncor. “And we have this unprecedented collaboration to do it.”

Little made the remarks Tuesday during a plenary discussion on shaping the energy future at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston. The session also featured Daniel Yergin, vice-chairman of IHS Markit, Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips, and was moderated by Muqsit Ashraf, a senior managing director of Accenture who leads its energy practice.

“One of the things that’s become significant over the last year is just how difficult this is,” said Little. “You pause the entire economy globally [due to COVID-19] … and we didn’t really move the needle. It wasn’t like we went down by 80 per cent GHG emissions. This is a massive, massive challenge.”

Moreover, oil use is not going away because it is so pervasive in everyday uses from cellphones to EVs, added Little.

“Everybody is trying to solve it on the supply side and the demonization of the producers,” said Little. “But at what point are we going to have the real conversation that this has to do with cellphones. It has to do with EVs. A lot of this is going into the products we use every single day, and we don’t know it.”

The Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative proposes a massive carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) scheme as its “foundational project,” along with other measures to reduce emissions, including process improvements, electrification and fuel substitution, energy efficiency, and emerging technologies and offsets.

“This is an unprecedented global collaboration to actually take three per cent of the world’s oil that comes from oilsands [production]” and ensure their emissions reach net zero by 2050, said Little. “And I think when it’s all done, Canada’s oil is the best there is. This is one of the key areas that we’re focused on and there’s a whole bunch of different things we’re doing to make that happen.”

The six companies in the alliance produce over 95 per cent of Canada’s oilsands production. Little said the oilsands produce 70 megatonnes of GHG emissions, about 10 per cent of all of Canada’s emissions.

One of the fantastic things about the industry is its huge resource of technical talent and capability, said Little.

“We have the ability to deploy billions and billions of dollars, and we have technology and all these different things,” said Little. “For us, we think that the industry has to be part of the solution, not the problem associated with it. And we need to be able to harness this resource and figure out how to move forward. I think that’s [done through] collaboration, and it’s a collaboration not just within the industry, but also with the governments and with other stakeholders and NGOs and all of the various [stakeholders].”

Little also pointed to the transformative Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) initiative as an example of a successful collaboration, which the Pathways initiative stemmed from. The oilsands alliance focuses on accelerating the pace of technology through collaborative action and innovation.

In response to a question about Suncor’s role as an integrated player in participating in the energy transition, Little highlighted projects such as the construction of its cogeneration facility at the company’s Oil Sands Base Plant to make the steam for its oilsands operations. The company will also export power to Alberta’s grid so the province can get off coal-based power.

“That one project that we’re doing as part of our organization will reduce the world’s emissions by five megatonnes, which is huge,” he said. “It still has emissions and so we’ll deal with that as part of Pathways and the decarbonization or carbon sequestration associated with it.”

Suncor is also the largest producer of hydrogen in the country, producing about 15 per cent of Canada’s hydrogen, consuming 20 per cent. He said the company sees opportunity in clean hydrogen, power, and biofuels among other areas, which he said were logical extensions of the company’s business model.

“We’re looking around [at] how do we modify these processes that not only … deal with the emissions in our base business, but also start opening the door to sell hydrogen to our customers, which we’ve never done before,” said Little. “But we know how to make it; we know how to handle it. We know how to build, operate, and maintain these facilities. So we see this as a real logical continuation of the work that we’re doing.”

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