Can oil sands be developed responsibly?
The development of Canada’s oil sands presents a number of unique challenges.
We employ a variety of methods to minimize environmental, social and cultural impacts, while also helping communities positively benefit from nearby operations. This includes minimizing impact on the region's water and diverse ecosystems during production.
Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen – which is oil that is too heavy or thick to flow or be pumped without being diluted or heated. Northern Alberta’s oil sands are one of the largest known hydrocarbon deposits in the world, third behind those in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These fields are developed by using a method called steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) that injects steam into the reservoir to soften the bitumen and allow gravity to drain it into a producing well. The oil is then brought to the surface for further processing and sale.
We actively research ways to improve recovery processes to reduce overall SAGD water demand since water for steam is an integral part of extraction. More than 85% of the water used in the process is recycled produced water, meaning that it was produced from the formation. To obtain the additional 15% of water needed for the process, our SAGD operations draw from a series of deep underground sources, targeting water sources that are not used for human consumption, agricultural or livestock purposes.
We are also researching improvements to improve air emissions, including greenhouse gases (GHGs). On a well-to-wheels basis, Canadian oil sands crude generates somewhat higher GHG emissions than the weighted average crude processed in U.S. refineries.i We are evaluating technologies that address environmental performance by:
• Reducing our GHG emissions and water use intensity.
• Increasing the efficiency of steam generation.
• Reducing oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions intensity.
Supporting local economic opportunities is crucial and we direct considerable resources to finding solutions that create mutually beneficial business and engagement approaches that also build long-term value for both the company and our stakeholders.
We continuously strive to mitigate potential adverse impacts from our operations through community investment, training and employment programs, local business contracting, and support for social initiatives. For example, we put a special focus on helping local youth benefit from nearby industrial development.
Managing Land Footprint
We apply technology and design facilities to reduce our land impact and work diligently to restore former production sites in an environmentally responsible manner.
Effective management of our industry’s footprint often requires more proactive, collaborative solutions. Because of this, we practice integrated land management, collaborating with industry partners and other local stakeholders to manage our activities together. Our approach includes participating in multi-stakeholder regional planning initiatives like the Alberta Land Use Framework, the Foothills Landscape Management Forum and the Cumulative Environmental Management Association. We also participate in Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance’s (COSIA) Land Environmental Priority Area.
For more information about our oil sands operations and the technologies we're advancing to enable responsible development of the resources, please visit the ConocoPhillips Canada Sustainable Development Portal.
i "Canadian Oil Sands: Life-Cycle Assessments of Greenhouse Gas Emissions", Congressional Research Service, March 15, 2013.