Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Where do Greenhouse Gas Emissions come from?

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced when hydrocarbons, such as natural gas and oil, are burned. GHGs include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and ozone, all of which contribute to climate change.

Natural gas and oil are burned for electricity generation, industrial uses, transportation, and to heat homes and commercial buildings. In fact, the majority of GHG emissions are released at the end-user stage when consumers use natural gas and oil for heat, electricity, fuel and other important products.

Canada’s Carbon Footprint

According to the Government of Canada, Canada’s total GHG emissions in 2018 were 729 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). Globally, Canada’s share of GHG emissions is less than 1.5%. In 2018, the oil and gas sector accounted for 193 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq) (26% of total emissions), followed closely by the transportation sector, which emitted 186 Mt CO2 eq (25%).

Between 2005 and 2018, the amount of GHGs emitted per person decreased 13% from 22.6 to 19.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq) per person. Over the same period, GHG per unit of gross domestic product decreased 20% from 0.44 to 0.35 megatonnes CO2 eq per billion dollars gross domestic product (Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada).

Reducing GHG Emissions: A Global Challenge

Reducing GHG emissions is an important global issue, and Canada’s natural gas and oil industry is committed to decreasing the amount of GHG emissions generated for each barrel of oil and cubic metre of natural gas produced. Innovations in natural gas and oil that are being developed in Canada can – and are – being used globally, both for producing natural gas and oil, and to replace more emission-intensive hydrocarbons such as coal with responsibly produced Canadian energy sources.

The challenge: reduce GHG emissions while the demand for energy is growing.

GHG Regulations and Policies

In 2015, the Government of Canada announced a climate target to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

In 2020, the Government of Canada introduced A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy that includes measures to exceed the 2030 target and advance Canada’s emissions to net zero by 2050.

The natural gas and oil industry is regulated by provincial and federal governments through programs to reduce GHG emissions such as:

Natural Gas GHG Emissions

Canada’s natural gas industry works to reduce air emissions associated with exploration and production. Industry is finding solutions to meet Canada’s commitment to reduce methane emissions.

Canada’s natural gas industry reports GHG emissions as required. Reporting is done via Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Single Window system – a central web tool shared with provincial partners that streamlines national and provincial reporting.

Natural gas can play an important role in reducing Canada’s GHG emissions. For example, the electricity sector’s emissions dropped from 130 megatonnes in 2001 to 64 megatonnes in 2018, as power plants switched from coal to natural gas. Electricity powered by natural gas is forecast to increase from 10% in 2016 to 16% in 2040.

Globally, Canada’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) could help address climate change by replacing coal in countries with growing energy demand such as India and China. In fact, natural gas power generation emits nearly 40% less CO2 compared to coal. (Source: CAPP and ARC Energy)

With electrification of upstream natural gas production, Canadian LNG facilities will have lower life-cycle emissions intensity than LNG produced anywhere in the world.

Oil Sands GHG Emissions

While the oil sands have been painted as a high emitter of greenhouse gases, in reality, oil sands developments only account for 11% of Canada’s GHG emissions and less than 0.15% of global GHG emissions. However, Canada’s oil sands industry continues to reduce GHG emissions intensity. Work is in progress on a variety of new technologies to lower oil sands GHG emissions. GHG emissions have dropped 34% per barrel since 1990 due to innovation.

Turning the Tide against Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In oil sands mining, energy is needed to transport the ore, break it down into smaller pieces, and to heat the water used to separate the oil from the sand. Energy is also required to generate steam for in situ recovery methods. The industry is taking action to reduce emissions at every phase in the extraction process, both mining and in situ.

GHG Emissions in Energy and Other Industries

Other industries that emit GHGs include transportation, electricity, cement, chemicals, manufacturing, buildings, agriculture and waste. In 2018, respective emissions were (source: Environment and Climate Change Canada)

  • Natural gas and oil – 193 MtCO2e (26%)
  • Transportation – 186 MtCO2e (25%)
  • Buildings – 92 MtCO2e (13%)
  • Electricity – 64 MtCO2e (9%)
  • Heavy industry – 78 MtCO2e (11%)
  • Agriculture – 73 MtCO2e (10%)
  • Waste and others 41 MtCO2e (6%)

Emissions and Air Quality

In addition to CO2, other air emissions associated with oil sands development include nitrogen oxides (NOX), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and fine particulate matter (PM), which are primarily created through fuel combustion in facilities and vehicles.

Action on Reducing GHG Emissions

Across the natural gas and oil industry, the most effective action on climate change is achieved through innovations that help reduce emissions. In addition to the collaborative work being done by Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada (PTAC) and many other industry organizations, individual companies are also taking the lead. Recent examples include:

Suncor Energy announces plans for a major cogeneration facility.

MEG Energy plans to use carbon capture to become a zero-emissions facility.