Oilsands CCUS Won’t Happen Without Collaboration, Say Industry Experts

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As a large GHG emitter in Canada, the oilsands have long been in the crosshairs of environmentalists.

“For a decade, we’ve been labeled as dirty oil,” notes Sherri Evers, senior vice-president, sustainability, commercial development and product solutions, Imperial Oil Limited. “In order for us to be an energy supplier to the world that is sustainable, reliable, secure and affordable, we have to work together, because the problem is larger than any one of us can handle alone.”

Evers was one of the panelists at a recent carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) session held during the World Petroleum Congress in Calgary.

“The real conversation today is about the phenomenal collaboration that goes on in CCUS,” said Bill Whitelaw, managing director, strategy and sustainability, geoLOGIC systems ltd., and moderator of the session. “We hope you go away with some best practices and solutions and an understanding [of] how complex mega-projects can endure through a variety of dynamics because of people power and the willingness to collaborate and share insights.”

Imperial Oil is one of six major oilsands producers (including Cenovus Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources LimitedConocoPhillips Canada, MEG Energy Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc.), that have joined together under the banner of Pathways Alliance to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“I have many years of experience in the downstream sector,” said Evers. “When you went into a room and your competitor was in the same room, you didn’t want anyone to think you might be talking with the competition. But now, we sit together for six hours every week, working out how to solve this problem.”

One of the major projects under development is the Pathway Alliance CCS network. The $16 billion project involves capturing carbon at 20 sites in the Fort McMurray region then transporting it in a 400-kilometre pipeline to Cold Lake, where it will be permanently sequestered in a sandstone reservoir located over one kilometre beneath the surface, just above the Precambrian bedrock. 

In 2021, Imperial Oil reported 8.9 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions in the oilsands; while CCS is only one way of achieving their goal of reducing emissions intensity by 30 per cent by 2030, the millions of tonnes per year captured and sequestered by Pathway Alliance would go a long way to achieving that objective. They also realize that they can’t do it alone.

“We have international experience and we want to leverage the best that all of us can bring; we need to share best practices,” says Evers. “We all acknowledge that we can do this better as a group of six than any one company can do it individually.”

Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is one of the main proponents of CCUS in the province. ERA is now one of the biggest investors in CCUS technology.

Recently, the ERA funded 11 major CCUS feasibility studies from a variety of sectors. “This is not just about oil and gas, it’s about cement, fertilizer, power generation and even beer-making,” said Justin Riemer, CEO of ERA. “They are getting close to making FIDs.”

The funding comes with a larger purpose.

“Because we invested in these companies, they have an obligation to share information with us, and we have an obligation to share globally so that others can learn from the trials and tribulations of our projects,” says Riemer. “This is a journey, and it’s much more helpful to do this as a collaborative collection of learnings than independent silos.”

The engagement of Indigenous nations was one of the major topics of discussion at the session. Reconciliation Energy Transition Inc. (RETI), a First Nations company formed to invest in energy-related projects, is developing the East Calgary Region Carbon Sequestration Hub. The hub would have an initial capacity to store up to 5 million tpy, increasing to 10 million tpy in future phases.

“Collaboration means bringing Indigenous peoples into these discussions,” said panelist Stephen Mason, CEO and senior managing director, Project Reconciliation. “Specifically, when it means projects that involve infrastructure for carbon capture and sequestration in traditional territories.”

“One of the most important parts of collaboration is with the Indigenous communities,” agreed Imperial’s Evers. “You can’t build a 400-kilometre pipeline and other facilities that are located on their traditional land and territories without working with Indigenous communities.”

All panelists concurred that, for major CCUS projects to succeed, the public would have to be fully informed and on board.

“Social licence and social acceptance is absolutely critical,” concluded ERA’s Riemer. “It is going to take everyone in the room to speak the truth and inform the public about the realities of these technologies.”

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