Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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

Oil and natural gas 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 oil and natural gas for heat, electricity, fuel and other important products.

Canada’s Carbon Footprint

According to the Government of Canada, Canada’s total GHG emissions in 2017 were 716 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). Globally, Canada’s share of GHG emissions is less than 1.5%. Of that amount, the largest industry portion of Canada’s GHG emissions comes from the energy sector, followed by transportation.

From 2005 to 2017, Canada’s economy has grown more rapidly than its GHG emissions. As a result, the emissions intensity for the entire economy (GHG per GDP) has declined by 36% since 1990 and 20% since 2005. Canada is on a path towards meeting its target of 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada’s emissions profile is similar to that of most industrialized countries, in that CO2 is the largest contributor to total emissions, accounting for 80% of total emissions in 2017, Methane emissions in 2017 amounted to 93 Mt or 13% of Canada’s total. (Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada)

Canadian GHG Emissions in Global Context

Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2019 & World Resources Institute, 2016

Reducing GHG Emissions: A Global Challenge

Reducing GHG emissions is an important global issue, and Canada’s oil and natural gas 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 oil and natural gas that are being developed in Canada can – and are – being used globally, both for producing oil and natural gas, 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.

Meeting Canada’s Climate Commitments with Terry Abel

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.

The oil and natural gas 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 74 megatonnes in 2017, 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 12% of Canada’s GHG emissions and about 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 32% 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.

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GHG Emissions in Energy and Other Industries

In 2017, GHG emissions from the Energy sector (583 Mt) were 1.9% lower than in 2005 (595 Mt). Within the Energy sector, the 43 Mt increase in emissions from Oil and Gas Extraction was offset by a 46 Mt decrease in emissions from Public Electricity and Heat Production, which in turn reflects decreased electricity generation from coal and oil (40% and 70% decrease, respectively), accompanied by a 17% increase in hydro, nuclear and wind generation.

Other industries that emit GHGs include transportation, electricity, cement, chemicals, manufacturing, buildings, agriculture and waste. In 2017, respective emissions were (source: Environment and Climate Change Canada)

  • Oil and natural gas – 195 MtCO2e (27%)
  • Transportation – 174 MtCO2e (24%)
  • Buildings – 85 MtCO2e (12%)
  • Electricity – 94 MtCO2e (10%)
  • Heavy industry – 73 MtCO2e (10%)
  • Agriculture – 72 MtCO2e (12%)
  • Waste and others 42 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.

Learn More About Air

Action on Reducing GHG Emissions

Across the oil and natural gas 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.