We do our utmost to live up to the responsibility that goes with being a developer of some of Canada’s most valuable resources. Like any industry, we have environmental challenges and we’re tackling them head-on: working to help ensure our operations don’t affect nearby lakes and streams, reducing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity of our operations, reducing the amount of land we need to build each oil sands project and striving to prevent impacts on wildlife in our operating areas.
We’re proud of our environmental record and even prouder of the ways we’ve improved how we develop the oil sands by using innovation to solve environmental challenges. Our employees, many of whom live near our operations, are personally committed to making sure we keep finding better practices and technologies to get oil and natural gas out of the ground safely and responsibly.
Taking care of the environment is part of what we do every day – from how we design our oil sands projects, to the way we operate, to the care we take in environmental reclamation when a project is complete. Some of the ways the environment is integrated into our business include:
Governance: Environment is a core accountability of our Safety, Environment and Responsibility Committee, our Executive Team, and specifically our Executive Vice-President of Environment & Corporate Affairs. The Board and Executive Team review environmental compliance and performance at least once per year.
Organizational structure: Our Environment & Regulatory Team is accountable for stewarding the company’s approach to the environment. This team consists of subject matter experts organized by functions such as air and GHG emissions, water, waste and spills, land and biodiversity, compliance and environmental planning.
Policy: Environmental considerations are reflected in several key company policies, including our Corporate Responsibility Policy and our Enterprise Risk Management Policy.
Risk management: Environmental considerations are fully integrated into our Enterprise Risk Management Policy. Environmental impacts are mapped out using a specific risk matrix.
Annual planning: We undertake an environmental planning process to review our environmental performance, assess priorities and identify actions and areas for improvement for the coming year.
Audits: We conduct environment, health, safety and regulatory audits to make sure we are in compliance with applicable laws and regulations as well as continuously improving our performance across our operations. Each audit is carried out by a cross-functional team that includes specialists and trained subject matter experts from across the company.
Measurement and reporting: We track and report on a broad range of environmental metrics that are important to our stakeholders through our corporate responsibility report and to regulators as required by law. We also use these metrics to drive internal performance and help manage risk.
Disclosure: We annually disclose our environmental, social and governance performance through our publicly available corporate responsibility report and third-party assessments such as the RobecoSAM Corporate Sustainability Questionnaire, which determines eligibility for inclusion in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index family.
Just as innovation has made it possible for us to extract oil from the oil sands, it also plays a critical role in helping us find new ways to reduce impacts to air, land and water. Innovation is a part of how we approach everything we do at Cenovus. We take pride in turning new ideas into opportunities, so logically we apply this strength to improving our environmental performance too. In 2014, we reworked our environment strategy to include a longer-term focus on technologies that reduce our environmental impacts and address environmental concerns.
We know there are opportunities in reaching out to others across and beyond our industry to access great ideas. We’re working with our peer companies, academics, entrepreneurs and others to identify and develop innovative solutions to environmental challenges.
We support academic institutions including the University of Alberta Research Chair in Energy and Environmental Systems Engineering and the University of Calgary Chair in Canadian Plains Mitigation and Reclamation Research.
One way is through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). We’re collaborating and aligning our efforts with 12 other oil sands producers to find solutions to improve environmental performance by focusing on areas such as water, land and GHG emissions.
Examples of technologies we’ve contributed to COSIA are:
We also have an energy efficiency program to encourage use of technologies that can immediately reduce emissions or water use in our operations.
Cenovus shares the public’s concern that climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our times. We believe the world needs to limit the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Since our product contributes to climate change, we need to be part of the solution. As an energy producer, we need to play a role by improving our emissions performance while encouraging innovation that will create a cleaner energy future for the world. It will take collaboration on a global scale – with others in our industry and outside of our industry, in Canada and around the world – to address carbon along the entire value chain.
We manage our GHG emissions with a focus on continuously reducing our emissions intensity, which is the amount of emissions emitted per barrel of oil produced. We do this by:
We’re also working with government, industry leaders and academics to develop and prepare for emerging GHG emissions regulations. We favour a system that places a price on carbon and also stimulates innovation and investment in technologies to help minimize GHG emissions.
The GHG emissions intensity of our Christina Lake crude oil is comparable to the average crude oil consumed in North America. This is due to its industry-leading low average SOR of 1.8 in 2014, in part driven by a number of innovative ideas implemented over several years, such as accelerated start-up, Wedge Well™ technology and energy efficiency initiatives.
Cenovus has been on the CDP Climate Disclosure Canadian Leadership Index for five years in a row. In 2014, we scored 98 out of 100 – our best score yet and one of the highest in the oil and natural gas industry.
Through COSIA’s GHG Environmental Priority Area, we’re investigating ways to reduce energy use and associated GHG emissions with the development of innovative technologies for oil sands operations. The group has identified key issues facing the industry and is working to address them in several ways, such as:
To learn more about how we’re managing our GHG emissions, read about oxy-fuel combustion and our CO2 enhanced oil recovery operation.
Our operations produce a variety of air emissions, including NOx, SO2 and volatile organic compounds as a result of burning or releasing natural gas. We address these emissions by:
NOx emissions from our steam generators at Christina Lake are much lower than current regulatory requirements. We’ve reduced our NOx emissions by about 40 percent since 2006 even though our production has increased and we continue to look for ways to improve. Flue gas recirculation has helped with our NOx emissions reduction efforts. This system recycles exhaust gas from the stack of a steam generator into the front of the burner so it can be used as fuel. As a result, less NOx is formed. We are planning to implement this technology in our future oil sands projects to lower emissions.
Water is essential to our business. Whether it’s water floods in oil reservoirs to improve production from mature conventional oil fields or steam for oil sands production, most of our oil production operations require water.
Our goal is to manage our use of water resources efficiently and responsibly. We do this by:
Cenovus participates in the CDP’s Water Disclosure, a voluntary program that allows companies to share information about water management and governance, water-related risks, opportunities and water accounting.
Cenovus works with government, regulators and peers to manage cumulative water consumption. For example, at our Christina Lake oil sands project, we work together with other operators through the Christina Lake Regional Water Management Agreement. The idea is to develop a collective approach to water demand. This enables us to understand the total current and future demand on groundwater sources in the area and plan our water sourcing and waste water disposal strategies together to minimize our impact on the environment.
We’re putting our Environmental Commitments into action by identifying ways to further reduce our water use and protect ground and surface water through a number of initiatives:
We use about one million cubic metres (6.3 million barrels) of fresh water every year to support various drilling and construction programs such as exploration and road maintenance. This water is hauled by truck to where it is needed, such as to build ice roads or to control dust on roads. Traditionally, each time a water truck was filled, the water use was noted by hand on paper. Over previous winters we had some challenges with regulatory compliance because of delays in getting paperwork and entering data from several trucks into a centralized tracking system.
Recognizing we needed to do better, we developed a new water tracking program to not only improve our compliance with regulations but to also create a new industry standard. In the fall, we launched a mobile phone app and web-based tracking system to improve our trucked water tracking. The app enables a water hauler to track the volume of each load on a mobile device. This approach ensures there is no lag time and helps to make sure we don’t miss a load. The system has helped to increase reporting accuracy, reduce time and costs associated with data entry, and provide wider access to data. The new tracking system allows us to track load-by-load water use, enabling us to better predict where and how much water we need.
Our technology development initiatives have resulted in more efficient steam boilers at our oil sands operations, which use less water and reduce our CO2 emissions because less natural gas is burned.
SAGD technology relies on steam to get the oil from our oil sands projects out of the ground – meaning the success of our operations depends on our ability to access and use water efficiently. Of the water that was used in steam production at our Foster Creek and Christina Lake oil sands projects in 2014, most of it (over 84 percent) came from recycled produced water, 14 percent from saline groundwater and two percent from fresh groundwater. We do not use any water from lakes or streams to make steam in our oil sands operations.
We’re constantly on the lookout for innovative ways to reduce and recycle water in our activities. For example, we have installed low-flow pumping fixtures at some of our camps and reuse camp waste water in our drilling operations and to construct ice roads.
Spills of any type – whether produced water, drilling fluids, chemicals, gasoline or oil – are not acceptable. But they can and do happen despite having engineering and process safety procedures in place. Fewer spills mean less long-term environmental impacts. Some common causes of spills include transferring materials between vessels, loading and unloading, overfilling of containers, leaking storage tanks, hoses, piping or other equipment, equipment failure and accidents such as motor vehicle incidents.
We work to proactively reduce the risks of spills by applying rigour to our maintenance activities, promoting awareness of spill prevention, tracking and reporting spills across our operations, pre-job planning to identify potential spill hazards and responding appropriately to incidents. Spill incidents that do occur are reported, cleaned up so there are no lasting impacts on the environment, investigated and actions undertaken to minimize the risk of future incidents.
In the event of a spill, Cenovus responds immediately, implementing containment and recovery plans while safeguarding our workers and the environment.
We’re taking steps to raise spill prevention awareness among our workers. We have spill committees across our operations to help identify spill trends and prevention opportunities. We continue to raise awareness among our contractors and employees about how to prevent or reduce the number, size and extent of spills that occur in our operations through our Every Drop Counts program. The more our workers are aware of the impact of spills and how they can be prevented, the more effort they’ll make to work safely and take the time to address hazards that may cause spills.
In 2014, we experienced an increase in the volume of reportable spills. We’re working to analyze why this happened so that we can enhance our approach to spill prevention.
The increase in reportable spill volume was primarily due to sizeable events at the following locations:
Re-establishing habitat to restore the natural diversity of plants and animals in areas where we operate is an integral part of the work we do. The goal of our reclamation efforts is to reduce habitat loss and minimize the impact on wildlife.
Since no two areas across our operations are the same, we give a lot of thought to the reclamation approach we take. In our oil and gas operations in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, the reclamation process can begin immediately after a well is no longer producing. In other cases, like at our oil sands projects in northern Alberta, we choose to reuse already disturbed land for other purposes and reclaim it once we’re finished. While the result may be that we don’t receive as many reclamation certificates for those areas in the short term, this approach helps to reduce the total amount of land that’s disturbed in the long run. We track and manage wells throughout their life cycle, from planning through production to reclamation, and have a long-term strategy in place to manage our inactive wells and actively accelerate the pace of our reclamation.
Currently, 250 to 300 wells become inactive each year. This number will increase significantly over the next 15 years when many of the conventional natural gas wells drilled during the 1970s reach the end of their productive lives.
In 2014, we began taking a more proactive approach to managing how we abandon and reclaim wells, by launching our Take it to Eight initiative. Take it to Eight requires any wells that have not been active for eight years to automatically be abandoned and reclaimed.
Previously, we had wells that had been inactive for longer than eight years, and it was rare that these wells were ever reactivated for oil and gas production. These older wells also posed an increased risk to the environment. Since launching the initiative in November, we have been able to add over 600 wells to our abandonment and reclamation program. The benefits to taking this new approach include:
The initiative is currently active across our conventional oil and gas operations in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, however our goal is to extend Take it to Eight across all our operations by the end of 2015.
Our development planning process considers many different measures to reduce our impacts on vegetation and wildlife. We integrate biodiversity considerations into our planning and decision-making processes and work collectively with industry partners, government and academics to develop our resource responsibly.
Part of our operations are located in the boreal forest in northern Alberta. Cenovus has made woodland caribou a key environment and biodiversity priority. Woodland caribou are listed as threatened under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. Our caribou-related initiatives include participation and leadership at COSIA, where a coordinated caribou program is being developed by the oil sands industry. We’re also carrying out a major habitat restoration program across 37,000 hectares of forest in northeast Alberta. During the summer of 2015, our goal is to plant 100,000 trees as part of this program.
All of our oil sands projects go through a detailed environmental impact assessment (EIA) prior to being approved by the Government of Alberta. Issues of biodiversity are rigorously dealt with in these EIAs. As part of this regulatory approval process, we’re required to submit comprehensive caribou mitigation and monitoring plans.
An innovative approach Cenovus has implemented to improve our biodiversity performance is to use specialized geomatics software tools to help identify, map and make mitigation recommendations such as optimizing the construction of our projects to avoid ecologically sensitive areas, suggesting the most appropriate timing, or advising on methods for construction and reclamation. Patent applications were filed for this approach in 2014.
We also plan our activities to avoid sensitive times for wildlife, such as migration and nesting periods for birds and calving season for caribou.
We work closely with Aboriginal and local communities, government, industry partners and researchers on ways to reduce the impact our operations have on wildlife and habitat. We support regional biodiversity monitoring initiatives through the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring initiative, Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute and the Cumulative Environmental Management Association.
|BOE/d||barrel of oil equivalent per day|
|CO2E||carbon dioxide equivalent|
|m³OE||cubic metres of oil equivalent|
|mg/L||milligrams per litre|
|MMcf/d||million cubic feet per day|
|SOR||steam to oil ratio|