In-situ emissions 43 per cent higher than mining
According to a recent analysis by the Pembina Institute, in-situ extraction produced an average of 43 per cent more emissions per barrel than mining in 2016. That’s a serious concern for climate policy analysts given that all new oilsands production after roughly 2022 will come from in-situ projects.
Ambitious claims are frequently made by industry and government that per-barrel emissions will soon plummet with the implementation of new technologies.
But Pembina analyst Jan Gorski told The Narwhal that most emissions reductions have occurred in upgrading, not extraction, with little signs of improvement in mining or in-situ extraction.
Furthermore, the most promising technologies are still in early stages and will only apply to new projects, not expansions (which is where production is set to grow).
“The greater question is that it hasn’t yet been shown how oilsands emissions, even as they are today, would be compatible with our emissions targets,” Gorski said.
“You take into account that there’s going to be more growth and it just makes the problem worse.”
Recent studies have also questioned current estimates of methane leakage from extraction of natural gas, used heavily by in-situ producers. A journal article in Elementa from earlier this year indicated that emissions from operations near Red Deer may be 15 times higher than reported.
Overview of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
In the last decade there has been a boom in natural gas extraction and export in North America, mainly in the United States where new processes have allowed for access to natural gas reserves that were previously inaccessible. The most common of these new extraction processes is called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The fracking process involves pumping large amounts of mud, water and chemicals into deep natural gas deposits, creating enough pressure to crack open rock formations and release the gas.
These new gas discoveries have created an appetite for exports. To turn natural gas into a liquid for export, it must be cooled to 163 degrees below zero. Doing so requires running massive compression units 24/7. Each of the large LNG plants proposed for B.C.’s coast would need the equivalent of an entire Site C dam (1,100 megawatts of capacity) to power it by electricity. However, the reality is many of these plants will run their compressor units on natural gas, creating greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG plant in B.C.’s northwest could become the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada if it is built.