Significant room for improvement on oil sands projects


The Pembina Institute has just released Drilling Deeper: The In Situ Oil Sands Report Card. It is the first comparative environmental assessment of in-situ oil sands projects. Scores among the nine Canadian operating projects surveyed ranged from 25 to 60 per cent, with five of nine projects scoring less than 50 per cent. The average score of 44 per cent demonstrates substantial room for improvement across the sector.
In situ extraction techniques are used where oil sands deposits lie too deep underground to surface mine. Given that about 80,000 square kilometres of Alberta, an area the size of Scotland, has been leased for in-situ development, the potential environmental impact of these projects could be significant.
The leading operation among the nine in the survey was the Suncor Firebag project which scored 60 per cent. The weakest operation was the Canadian Natural Resources Primrose/Wolf Lake project, which scored 25 per cent. A project using the best attributes of all projects could have scored 85 per cent in the survey, indicating that available environmental best practices are not being implemented by the sector as a whole.
“Such a wide variation in the environmental performance of in-situ projects suggests a failure to implement best practices available to them. It also shows that the bar is set so low that companies are creating needless environmental impacts,” says Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute. “They are certainly not being held to the standards of environmental performance that the public expects.”
Oil sands projects were ranked on 17 environmental indicators in five categories: environmental management, land impacts, air pollution, water use and management of greenhouse gases. Companies were invited to complete the survey questionnaire and had opportunities to review the data and to comment on their performance.
“Our analysis shows that in-situ oilsands development is actually more intensive on a per barrel basis in some environmental impact categories than oilsands mining,” says Marc Huot, Technical Analyst with the Pembina Institute. “This finding dispels the myth presented by some in industry and government that in-situ oilsands development is ‘low impact.’ Instead, it highlights the need for serious improvements.”
In the report card, the Pembina Institute also provides recommendations to improve the environmental performance of in-situ oilsands development, including greater transparency from industry on environmental data, a stronger commitment by industry to reduce environmental impacts and enhanced regulation from government to ensure best practices are implemented.


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