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Pathways Alliance advances key oil sands CO2 emissions reduction activities

Press Release

Calgary – November 27, 2023

Pathways Alliance is making strides on multiple simultaneous projects that are contributing to its goal of a 22 million tonne annual reduction of CO2 emissions (scopes 1 and 2) from oil sands operations by 2030, on the journey to net zero emissions from operations by 2050.

The largest near-term focus is on its proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) project. Significant engineering, subsurface evaluation and environmental field work has been completed in preparation for imminent regulatory applications.

When complete, the CCS project proposed by Canada’s six largest oil sands companies would be one of the world’s largest CCS networks and play an essential role in helping Alberta and Canada progress their net zero ambitions.

“We’re taking all the steps needed to ensure this project is ready to go once we have the critical regulatory policies and co-investment commitments from governments that are necessary for our sector to remain cost competitive with other oil-producing regions around the world while we reduce emissions,” said Pathways Alliance President Kendall Dilling.

The proposed CCS network includes a transportation line with capacity to carry carbon dioxide (CO2) captured from multiple oil sands facilities to a hub in the Cold Lake region of Alberta for safe and permanent underground storage. This CCS network could reduce net CO2 emissions from oil sands operations by approximately 10 to 12 million tonnes annually by 2030 and as much as 40 million tonnes per year by 2050.

The first phase of the proposed Pathways Alliance plan calls for more than a $24 billion investment before 2030. Of the $24 billion, approximately $16.5 billion, will support the proposed CCS network. The remaining $7.6 billion investment is earmarked for other major emissions reduction projects and technologies.

Next steps build on more than $1.8 billion already spent by Pathways Alliance members on phase one projects. This includes:

  • cogeneration to replace higher-emitting fuels used to produce electricity and steam;
  • more efficient in situ oil sands recovery technologies;
  • research and development of more than 50 emissions abatement technology projects, such as advanced carbon capture and storage studies and testing, steam reduction and solvent demonstration projects, lower emission fuel switching trials, and small modular reactor feasibility studies; and
  • early work on the foundational CCS project, including engineering, feasibility studies and environmental field work.

Emissions reduction investments continue to be made with the bulk spend for construction of the total CCS project later this decade subject to completion of Indigenous consultation, regulatory review and decisions, and final investment decisions.

“The emissions reduction efforts of Pathways Alliance members, working together with governments, will help ensure the oil sands sector can continue to provide hundreds of thousands of jobs across Canada, tens of billions of dollars in annual revenues for governments and the energy security needed for Canada and globally for decades to come,” said Dilling.

Background details on progress to date

Foundational CCS project

  • Multiple feasibility studies on phase-one capture facilities, with engineering and design work progressing.
  • Major regulatory applications for the CO2 transportation network and storage hub are being prepared and are expected to be filed in late 2023 or early 2024.
  • Front end engineering and design work on the proposed 400+-kilometre CO2 transportation line is now more than half complete.
  • This includes technical design and numerous tests to ensure the safe transport of CO2.
  • Work is ongoing to obtain a carbon sequestration agreement from the Government of Alberta to support regulatory submissions for the carbon storage hub.
  • Two wells in the storage hub area have been drilled and tested extensively to better understand the geological properties of the Basal Cambrian Sandstone (BCS) and multiple overlaying salts; four existing wells have been tested.
  • More than 2,000 hours of environmental field work has been conducted since 2021.
  • The environmental field program has been surveying the proposed transportation line and storage hub project areas conducting hundreds of heritage resource assessments, wetland classifications, soil assessments and aquatic habitat evaluations.
  • The data gathered in the environmental field program will be used to mitigate any potential impacts of the foundational CCS project on the natural environment.
  • Formal consultation and engagement work with Indigenous groups along the proposed CO2 transportation corridor and storage network began in the fall 2023 and was preceded by months of discussions about the project with communities.
  • Pathways Alliance continues to meet with other local community members and landowners to share information about CCS and the proposed project.

Advancement of other emissions reduction technologies

  • Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Pathways Alliance members are currently advancing several other CCS technology development projects that have the potential to be used by other industries and exported globally, including:
  • Advancing conventional carbon capture technology to improve energy and cost efficiency.
  • Assessing and piloting next generation CCS technologies, such as those developed by Svante and Ionada.
  • Conducting a direct air capture landscape study to assess and understand future technologies.
  • Evaluating the feasibility of CO₂ sequestration in depleted natural gas fields.
  • Steam reduction technologies to reduce the need for steam, which is a major driver of emissions from in-situ oil sands production.
  • Member companies are piloting multiple technologies using solvents (lighter hydrocarbons) in steam assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) optimization.
  • These processes have the potential to lower costs, reduce steam-to-oil ratios and lower GHG emissions intensity from oil sands production by up to 50%.
  • Natural gas decarbonization and hydrogen use in oil sands facilities. A fuel switching pilot is being conducted to convert natural gas into hydrogen and solid carbon (that can be stored or used). This can significantly reduce CO2 emissions from the hydrogen production process and from natural gas combustion.
  • Evaluating technology options for converting carbon in natural gas and flue gas into economically useful products like graphite.
  • Small modular reactors:
  • Pathways Alliance is continuing analysis and evaluation of the application of small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) as one of the many long-term methods to produce energy for industrial steam and sharply reduce CO2 emissions from oil sands production.
  • One of the Pathways Alliance members, Cenovus Energy, has completed a joint feasibility study to assess how SMRs could be applied in the oil sands and has launched the next stage of assessment through various engineering, design and other studies.

More detailed information on emissions reduction work underway by Pathways Alliance members can be found here.

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