Canada's oil and natural gas industry is actively working to reduce environmental impacts through project design, operational excellence, innovation and technology. Innovation and new technology advances are key for the industry to help Canada meet its climate change commitments.
Developing and installing technologies to reduce environmental impacts is the best way to promote industry growth that is environmentally responsible, creates jobs across the country, and provides government revenues.
New Technology Development is Key
Across Canada’s economy, the pace of change is exponential – for example, many new technologies and advances in vehicles, phones, electronics, and medicine have occurred in the past 20 years. Similarly, innovation and new technology is steadily occurring within the oil and natural gas sector. The biggest challenge to developing new technology remains the long time needed to test and implement advanced innovations and technologies.
Developing technologies is a complex process. From concept through engineering design, testing at lab scale, then at field scale, and finally commercialization, this is a multi-year journey – often a decade or more. The oil and natural gas industry has been operating, developing and implementing new technologies for more than 50 years, which have already achieved improvements. Technologies that have been deployed at commercial scale are improving environmental performance and the potential for further impact reductions is huge.
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Oil Sands Technology & Innovation
Companies operating in Canada’s oil sands are leaders in environmental innovation and developing new technology. From planning to land reclamation, the industry is working collaboratively to constantly evaluate and optimize its environmental performance and making ongoing innovations.
Examples of innovation and technology that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil sands include:
- Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a safe and permanent means to capture emissions that would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere and inject the CO2 deep underground.
- Partial upgrading – primarily aimed at reducing or eliminating the need to dilute bitumen to make it suitable for pipeline transport.
- Advanced oil sands recovery technologies aimed at reducing the need to use steam for in situ bitumen recovery, thus reducing the need to burn natural gas to create steam – which then reduces emissions. Technologies include light hydrocarbon injection, or heating bitumen underground by using electromagnetic waves.
Innovation Trends in the Oil Sands
As part of its priority to improve environmental innovations, a number of oil sands innovation groups have emerged with the intention of having companies collaborate for success. These include:
COSIA in Action
Through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), the oil sands industry has shared 1,076 distinct technologies at a cost of almost $1.6 billion, to find innovative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, minimize land impact, reduce water use and improve the management of tailings.
COSIA: Collaborating on Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Innovation and Technology in Natural Gas
The natural gas industry is engaged in continuous improvement and committed to finding innovative ways to reduce impacts on the environment. Innovation is key to achieving this goal.
For example, advancements in hydraulic fracturing and multi-well drilling from a single well pad have not only unlocked natural gas resources that were previously uneconomical to develop, but also reduced the overall surface footprint of drilling activities. Several horizontal wells drilled from a multi-well pad can access a greater area of the reservoir from a smaller piece of land than vertical wells drilled from single-well pads. A 20-well pad disturbs about 5% of the land required for an equal number of vertical wells.
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The natural gas industry continually works on developing new technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing methane emissions. Industry is serious about meeting Canada’s commitment to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations by 45% from 2012 levels by 2025.
An array of technologies and approaches are being developed and implemented, such as using solar panels to power pumps – which eliminates emissions venting that results from traditional power sources. Another approach is installing systems to capture vented gases, including methane, which can then be used as fuel, providing a supplemental power source for the facility.
As in the oil sands industry, a number of innovation groups have emerged with the intention of having companies collaborate for success, including the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC), a neutral non-profit facilitator of collaborative research and development and technology development. PTAC operates in partnership with all industry stakeholders to transform challenges into opportunities. Current projects include the Advanced Methane Detection, Analytics and Mitigation Project and the C-DER Centre for the Demonstration of Emissions Reductions.