An oil sands facility is reflected in a tailings pond near Fort McMurray, Alta., on July 10, 2012. The Canadian Energy Research Institute says Canada’s oilsands production could grow to the point that its greenhouse gas emissions exceed the Alberta government’s regulated cap of 100 million tonnes per year by 2030. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Report shows oilsands emissions over cap by 2030 unless GHG intensity falls

CALGARY — Canada’s oilsands production could grow to the point that its emissions exceed the Alberta government’s cap of 100 million tonnes per year by 2030, according to a forecast from the Canadian Energy Research Institute released Monday.

On-site emissions from oilsands producers would grow from about 72 million tonnes in 2017 to 103 million tonnes in 2030 under a reference case scenario based on current company plans and technologies, it said.

But Dinara Millington, vice-president of research for CERI, said the industry can grow without exceeding the cap if it continues to improve as it has in recent years.

“If we take the historical decline in emissions per barrel from in-situ, mining and upgrading projects and if we were to apply these declines to the future production, then we can see that the emissions cap will not be reached,” she said in an interview.

“For the industry to be able to achieve that, they will need to continuously improve their emission intensity every year.”

Emissions produced per barrel from Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.’s Horizon oilsands mine are five per cent higher than the global oil average, executive vice-chairman Steve Laut said on a conference call last week. But he added the company has “a defined pathway” to take it below the average over the next several years.

CERI’s reference case scenario envisions oilsands production rising from 2.8 million barrels per day in 2017 to 3.2 million bpd by 2020 and 4.09 million bpd in 2030.

That’s down from CERI’s forecast a year ago that showed oilsands output rising to 3.4 million bpd by 2020 and 4.76 million bpd by 2030.

“A bunch of project capacity has been cancelled so that is no longer part of our evaluation,” Millington said.

“The ones that have been put on hold we have extended their timeline farther down the road.”

The report forecasts that oilsands output would peak at about 5.5 million bpd by 2038.

A new steam-driven oilsands project can be profitable with benchmark U.S. crude prices of just over US$60 per barrel and an expansion project needs just US$51.60 per barrel, making both financially feasible as West Texas Intermediate crude prices rose to above US$70 per barrel on Monday, CERI said.

Bitumen and upgraded synthetic crude made up 61 per cent of total Canadian oil output and 82 per cent of Alberta’s total oil production in 2017, CERI reported.

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