Home / news

Q and A: Progress on the Pathways Alliance net zero goal

November 22, 2022

Since the formation of the Pathways Alliance in 2021, significant early progress has been made on our path to net zero. Following are some frequently asked questions about the work so far:

What are the Pathways Alliance decarbonization plans?

To help Canada meet its climate goals, oil sands producers are working together and with governments on an ambitious and actionable plan to help Canada meet its emissions reduction commitments.

This plan will meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands operations by 22 million tonnes per year by 2030 and achieve a goal of net zero emissions by 2050.

Our proposed foundational project is a carbon capture and storage (CCS) network and CO2 pipeline which would gather captured CO2 from more than 20 oil sands facilities (14 to start) and transport it to a hub in the Cold Lake area of Alberta for safe underground storage. The line would also be available to other industries in the region interested in capturing and storing CO2.

Our CCS project alone – which would be one of the largest in the world – could reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by about 10 megatonnes per year by 2030 from the first 14 facilities and the engineering work is well underway to get us ready for construction.

 

How much does the Pathways Alliance intend to spend on these projects?

With anticipated co-funding support from Canadian governments, Pathways Alliance recently announced plans to invest $24.1 billion before 2030 in the first phase of its plan.

Approximately $16.5 billion will support a proposed carbon capture and storage network in northeastern Alberta that, when constructed, will be among the largest facilities in the world. Another $7.6 billion investment is planned on major emissions reduction projects and technologies.

 

Why haven’t we seen the bulk of that money spent yet?

A CCS project of this size is a huge undertaking that requires significant up-front work and a strong partnership between industry and government to proceed.

In fact, the spending profile on this CCS project follows the way capital is invested for most major infrastructure projects.

The first phase – that we are in now – will see investments in the tens of millions of dollars for feasibility studies, environmental assessments, and early engineering work.

The next phase after final investment decisions are made would see hundreds of millions spent on procurement of materials and services.

Finally, you would be looking at the largest portion of investment in the billions during the construction phases.

We continue to work with the federal and Alberta governments to ensure Canada’s co-funding programs and regulatory environment for CCS are globally competitive and that emissions reduction targets for our industry are realistic and achievable.

At the same time, it is impossible to invest in the construction of these projects because they have not been approved by governments. We are currently working on all the items governments require for regulatory applications, with plans to file our application in late 2023.

 

What still needs to come together to proceed with constructing these projects?

There are a few things.

First, we are encouraged that governments recognize that for projects like this to proceed requires they must co-invest alongside industry and that those government investments must be competitive with other jurisdictions like Norway, the Netherlands and especially the United States.

The federal government has acknowledged that Canada’s recently announced support for CCS projects falls quite short of what the United States has implemented through the recently announced Inflation Reduction Act and signalled that they will need to invest more. However, the level of co-investment has not yet been announced.

The federal government’s Investment Tax Credit, while a proposed good first step, has not yet been introduced as legislation, nor have other mechanisms they have floated. We are also eagerly anticipating hearing from the provincial government about the level of support they may be providing.

Second, for this CCS project to proceed, Pathways Alliance requires the Alberta government to allocate underground storage space for carbon sequestration. While we are encouraged the government has approved our storage space allocation for further evaluation, we don’t have final approval.

Third, to submit a regulatory application for our hub and pipeline, governments require a significant amount of engineering and scientific documents. For example, the government requires two seasons of environmental field work data to be part of the application. That work is underway but not yet complete.

Finally, it is critical that we meaningfully consult with Indigenous communities on the project. Early engagement has begun.

 

What is happening while we wait for those regulatory pieces to come together?

We’re progressing work to make sure we’re ready to make an investment decision and start building as soon as the necessary financial and regulatory conditions are in place.

We are doing everything we can to do that early work in anticipation that the necessary conditions will allow us to proceed.

Pre-work on the Pathways Alliance foundational CCS project to date:

  • Early engagement with more than 20 Indigenous communities along the proposed CO2 transportation and storage network corridor and a commitment to meaningful engagement throughout the full cycle of the network’s operations.
  • Selected by the Government of Alberta to continue exploratory work on the Alliance’s ambitious CCS hub to safely and permanently store CO2 captured from 20+ oil sands facilities and other interested industries in northern Alberta – more detailed work to evaluate the storage zone will soon begin.
  • Conducting engineering studies for the phase 1 CO2 capture facilities.
  • Nine carbon capture feasibility studies involving member companies have been completed on oil sands sites, with engineering work advancing.
  • Completed pre-engineering work on the 400-kilometre pipeline that will carry captured CO2 to the storage hub; more detailed engineering work is about to begin.
  • Environmental field programs are underway to support regulatory application submissions for the proposed CO2 transportation line and storage network. The Alliance is planning to submit those applications in late Q4 of 2023.

 

Is Pathways investing in decarbonization projects this year?

Absolutely. Here are just a few examples of decarbonization projects under way this year by Pathways Alliance member companies:

Suncor

  • Fuel-switching that will replace coke-fired boilers with significantly lower-emission cogeneration units. This is a $1.4 billion project.
  • Allocating approximately 10% of their annual capital budget over the medium term (2022-2025) to investments that advance our low-carbon energy offerings.

Cenovus

  • Completed feasibility study for carbon capture at Christina Lake.
  • Evaluated feasibility of carbon capture at the Elmworth gas plant as well as the Minnedosa Ethanol Plant, including the drilling and testing of a CO2 sequestration appraisal well at Minnedosa.
  • Initiated a technology screening study to determine the optimal CO2 capture technology at the Lloydminster Upgrader.
  • Completed pre-FEED studies for commercial-scale carbon capture applications at two Cenovus assets, working with Svante.
  • Committed to a power purchase agreement (PPA) to buy renewable electricity and associated emissions offsets.

Canadian Natural

  • Piloting solvent enhanced oil recovery technology on its thermal in situ assets with an objective to increase bitumen production, reduce the Steam to Oil Ratio (“SOR”), reduce GHG intensity and realize high solvent recovery. This technology has the potential for application throughout the Canadian Natural’s extensive thermal in situ asset base.
  • Canadian Natural is progressing with engineering and design of a commercial scale solvent SAGD pad development at Kirby North, which is targeted to commence solvent injection in early 2024.
  • Canadian Natural’s solvent pilot in the Primrose steam flood area began solvent injection in November 2021 with plans to continue for approximately two years to achieve targeted SOR and GHG intensity reductions of 40% to 45%, with solvent recovery greater than 70%. The Company is seeing positive operating results to date, including SOR reductions of approximately 50%.

Imperial

  • Progressing Grand Rapids development at Cold Lake, using steam-reducing technology (SA-SAGD solvent-assisted, steam-assisted gravity drainage) as well as other solvent technologies.
  • Expanding implementation of boiler flue gas technology at Kearl.
  • Pursuing CCS emissions reduction opportunity that captures efficiencies with Cold Lake operations.

ConocoPhillips Canada

  • Various engineering studies are underway to explore operational efficiencies (facilities optimization, capture), while several field pilots are under way (steam drive + gas, steam additives, Warm Applied Solvent Process (WASP)).
  • Through COSIA participation, Natural Gas Decarbonization, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) and transformational capture technologies are being explored.

MEG Energy

  • Carbon capture and sequestration conceptual studies and initial Pre-FEED activities.
  • Shallow sequestration scoping studies.

 

Is Pathways advancing any other technologies other than carbon capture and storage?

Yes, in fact the Pathways Alliance recently provided further details the technologies it is focusing on as part of its multi-phase plan.

Learn more in our news release that highlights these technologies.

What is the oil sands track record for clean technology investment?

Between 2012 and 2021, Pathways Alliance’s six member companies invested more than $10 billion on R&D for various technologies. Some of these have helped the industry reduce per barrel CO2 emissions by about 20% between 2009 and 2020, according to S&P Global.

Canada’s oil sands companies are collaborating more deeply than any other industry in the world, and it’s entirely focused on improving our sector’s environmental performance. Over the past decade these competing companies share intellectual property, share technology, and co-fund environmental research and clean technology development projects. Well over 1000 environmental research and clean tech projects, done together and shared.

 

Why does the oil sands industry require government support at a time it is profiting?

Our industry is subject to highly volatile and rapidly changing commodity price cycles as we witnessed over the past decade. In 2020 we were in a negative price environment.

These projects and technologies to reduce emissions will be developed and financed over a period of 30 years, during which we will be subject to fluctuating commodity price cycles.

Our foundational carbon capture and storage project is expected to cost $16.5 billion by the end of the decade and generate little or no return on investment for our shareholders.

It would be difficult to successfully plan a three-decade investment based on the price of oil today, and it would be impossible to remain globally competitive without government financial and policy support.

 

How do you respond to critics who say your industry is not contributing to the benefit of Canadians?

When Canada’s oil and gas sector is doing well, government receives significantly more revenues from our companies that help pay for health care, education, roads and infrastructure that improve communities and the standard of living for all Canadians.

Taxes and royalties paid by Canadian energy companies have surged to approximately $48 billion in 2022, a 200 per cent year-over-year increase, according to a report from RBC. If oil prices stay high that could rise to $64 billion in 2023.

Similarly, a recent report from Peters & Co. confirms those numbers, estimating the overall oil and gas sector will return some $50 billion in taxes and royalties this year alone.

Canadian energy companies are also expected to pay approximately $9 billion in federal corporate taxes this year, representing 13 per cent of the federal government’s total corporate income tax forecast, according to RBC.

 

Why is Pathways Alliance doing a national advertising campaign?

The campaign is the result of discussions with thousands of Canadians across the country who said they want more information about how oil sands producers are working together to reduce CO2 emissions from operations.

Canadians understand the importance of reducing emissions to support Canada’s energy future and they’ve told us they want concrete details about the steps our industry is taking to achieve our emissions goal.

Our campaign acknowledges that the oil sands are a significant source of our country’s emissions and that we must work collaboratively, including with governments, to help Canada meet its climate commitments and deliver the world’s preferred barrel of responsibly produced oil.

The Clear the Air campaign runs nationally throughout the fall and early winter and uses a range of advertising platforms to illustrate how Canada’s oil sands industry is being accountable and moving forward with optimism to significantly and steadily reduce emissions.

× Close

Cautionary Statement: Statements of future events or conditions in this press release, including projections, targets, expectations, estimates, and business plans are forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements can be identified by words such as achieve, aspiration, believe, anticipate, intend, propose, plan, goal, seek, project, predict, target, estimate, expect, forecast, vision, strategy, outlook, schedule, future, continue, likely, may, should, will and/or similar references to outcomes in future periods. Forward-looking statements in this press release include, but are not limited to, references to the viability, timing and impact of the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative collaboration and the development of pathways in support of a net-zero future; support for the pathways from the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada; the ability to enable net zero emissions from oil production and preserve economic contribution from the industry; the continued role of fossil fuels as part of a diversified energy mix; and the deployment of technologies to reduce GHG emissions, such as CCUS, process improvements, energy efficiency, fuel switching, electrification, infrastructure corridors and new emissions-reducing technologies. All net-zero references in this announcement apply to emissions from oil sands operations (defined as scope 1 and scope 2 emissions).

Forward-looking statements are based on current expectations, estimates, projections and assumptions at the time the statements are made. Actual future results, including expectations and assumptions concerning: demand growth and energy source, supply and mix; amount and timing of emissions reductions; the adoption and impact of new facilities or technologies, including on reductions to GHG emissions; project plans, timing, costs, technical evaluations and capacities, and the ability to effectively execute on these plans and operate assets; that any required support for the pathways from the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada will be provided; applicable laws and government policies, including climate change and restrictions in response to COVID-19; production rates, growth and mix; general market conditions; and capital and environmental expenditures, could differ materially depending on a number of factors. These factors include global, regional or local changes in supply and demand for oil, natural gas, and petroleum and petrochemical products and the resulting price, differential and margin impacts; political or regulatory events, including changes in law or government policy and actions in response to COVID-19; the receipt, in a timely manner, of regulatory and third-party approvals including for new technologies; lack of required support from the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada; environmental risks inherent in oil and gas exploration and production activities; environmental regulation, including climate change and GHG regulation and changes to such regulation; availability and allocation of capital; availability and performance of third-party service providers; unanticipated technical or operational difficulties; project management and schedules and timely completion of projects; reservoir analysis and performance; unexpected technological developments; the results of research programs and new technologies, and ability to bring new technologies to commercial scale on a cost-competitive basis; operational hazards and risks; general economic conditions, including the occurrence and duration of economic recessions; and other factors referenced by the companies’ in their most recent respective annual reports and management’s discussion and analysis, as applicable.

Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and involve a number of risks and uncertainties, some that are similar to other oil and gas companies and some that are unique to the companies. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied by its forward-looking statements and readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on them. The companies undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statements contained in this press release, except as required by applicable law.