Canadian Oil and Gas is Canada’s Largest Cleantech Industry
“Anybody that doesn’t see us as clean-tech is sadly mistaken,” said Joy Romero, vice-president of technology and innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.
Despite recent global events, the role of oil and gas globally continues to evolve, and the Canadian industry is transforming itself to become a major player. Many are not aware that Canada’s oil and natural gas companies are spending more on clean technology than all other industries in Canada combined – up to 1.4 billion a year.
Over the years Canada’s Oil Sands has been one of the most scrutinized industries in the world with constant pressure from governments, institutional shareholders and environmentalists to reduce emissions. In response to the incredible pressure, massive investment has been made in new technologies designed to drive down carbon emissions, water use and land disturbances.
To date, the Canadian oil industry is by far the largest spender on clean technology, accounting for 75% of spending in Canada. After years polarization, Oil Sands companies are now openly boasting about the results from their clean-tech innovations.
For example, in 2018, Suncor spent $635 million on clean tech R&D. It’s currently piloting a range of new technologies at its mining and steam-based Oil Sands facilities. One pilot program called “non aqueous extraction” technology extracts bitumen from Oil Sands ore without using water. The technology is expected to reduce the physical footprint of mining operation by 50% as well as reduce emissions. Eliminating or reducing water use is a major focus of Oil Sands innovation efforts across the sector.
At Cenovus, another major Alberta Oil Sands company, chief technology officer Harbir Chhina said his teams have been testing solvents such as butane or propane and injecting them into oil wells to both boost oil output and reduce water use. Cenovus found that by injecting up to 12% propane into the steam it reduced the need for water in the well by up to 40%.
Steam-based Oil Sands projects that reduce water usage leads directly to emissions reductions because less energy is spent turning water into steam.
At CNRL, the company is piloting an “in-pit extraction” method, which will result in dry Oil Sands tailings, described as a game-changing innovation because it will eliminate new tailings ponds, thereby allowing for faster remediation. The In-Pit Extraction Process (IPEP) is an alternate bitumen extraction process that separates Oil Sands ore into coarse solids, fine solids, bitumen and water. Because the process takes place at Oil Sands mines (in-pit) requires fewer diesel haul trucks, auxiliary equipment, therefore reducing power needs. In-Pit Extraction reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) by up to 40%, as well as reduces reclamation timelines, and reduces water usage
Joy Romero of CNRL said “The method will also massively reduce the size of the company’s mine mouth and has been shown to have a higher bitumen recovery rate than its current methods”
Even though the Canadian Oil Industry is the largest clean tech industry in Canada, globally and at home, the Oil Sands business has not received credit for the millions it spends on reducing its emissions.
“Our industry was painted as ‘dirty oil.’ We are not a dirty oil,” Romero said, adding that if the global oil industry were forced to produce its crude at Canadian standards, the world would see an immediate 23% reduction in emissions from oil and gas activities.
The Canadian Oil industry is striving to become an international supplier of choice. It is expected after the fall out from covid, within five years the energy industry will have moved into a period of recovery and growth. The Canadian energy industry stands to make out very well, thanks in large part to its investment in clean tech innovation.
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