Emissions & air quality
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.
As an oil producer, we’re committed to doing our part to address climate change. Managing our emissions is a material issue for our company as we aim to provide a lower-cost and lower-carbon product that is competitive with other forms of energy. Finding innovative technology solutions that will help to eliminate emissions both from the production of oil and from its use remains a high priority for Cenovus as it will help ensure that oil can be part of a clean energy future and continue to play a role in enhancing the quality of life around the world.
Our significant direct emissions sources include:
- Combustion (from equipment such as once-through steam generators, heaters and compressors)
- Venting (from pneumatic devices, tanks and surface casings)
Our indirect emissions are mainly from electricity consumption.
Minimizing the impact of emissions from these sources is our focus as we aim to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity through improved operational efficiency and innovative technologies.
- We’re maintaining a low steam to oil ratio (SOR) in our oil sands assets
- We’re focusing on innovation and technology development and deployment with the goal of improving energy efficiency and reducing GHG emissions across our operations. One example is flue gas recirculation technology, which recycles exhaust from steam generators used during SAGD.
- We’re working with other oil sands producers and leading environmental organizations to better understand each other’s views and recommend solutions for the oil and natural gas industry’s challenges. Those collaborative efforts helped inform the Government of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan that was announced in 2015. We believe the policy is world-leading and will be used as a reference for other jurisdictions around the world as they establish carbon legislation. The policy provides greater predictability and certainty for producers to invest in the growth of this significant Canadian resource while also addressing global concerns about climate change.
- We’re collaborating with Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) to find solutions to improve environmental performance by focusing on areas such as water, land and GHG emissions. For example, COSIA’s GHG Environmental Priority Area is investigating ways to reduce energy use and associated GHG emissions through the development of innovative technologies for oil sands.
- Cenovus is one of eight COSIA member companies that have teamed up with NRG Energy to co-fund the US$20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. The competition is a cross-border, cross-industry effort, designed to promote and advance the discovery and development of technologies that could launch an entirely new commercial industry – converting CO2 emissions into valuable products – while also potentially contributing to a cleaner energy future.
- We’re in the early stages of working with others to find solutions to eliminate emissions from the end use of oil, which has the potential for a significant impact since 70 percent to 80 percent of emissions from oil come from its end use
Did you know?
- We’re working with companies that are developing technologies aimed at minimizing the environmental impact of producing and consuming energy
- We’ve invested in General Fusion, which is developing fusion technology using hydrogen atoms found in water
- We’re a co-founder of Evok Innovations, a first-of-its-kind investment partnership, along with Suncor Energy and the BC Cleantech CEO Alliance, to connect the energy industry and the global clean technology community
- We’re providing the location for a carbon capture and storage (CCS) field research station near Brooks, Alberta. The research, led by Carbon Management Canada (CMC) Research Institutes and the University of Calgary, will focus on technology development for CCS in the energy industry as well as the monitoring and commercialization of CCS.
- We’re continuing to support the advancement of carbon capture and storage through our enhanced oil recovery project at Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where we’ve safely injected 27 million tonnes of CO2 underground since 2000, the equivalent of taking more than 5.7 million cars off the road for an entire year (note: 4.75 metric tonnes of CO2 per car per year according to a U.S. EPA GHG Equivalencies Calculator updated March 2014).
- We’re continuing to annually report our GHG emissions and climate change data through our corporate responsibility report and to the CDP Climate Disclosure Canadian Leadership Index, where we have been recognized by being named to the Canada 200 Climate Disclosure Leadership Index for six years. We also report our GHG emissions on an annual basis to Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program. We report emissions and climate change data to:
- better understand our carbon emissions performance and identify opportunities to increase efficiencies
- identify how we mitigate risks related to climate change
- provide increased transparency to investors, shareholders and the general public
Methane is known to have up to a 25 times greater comparative impact on climate change than CO2 over a 100-year period2. That’s why reducing methane emissions is an important way to address the climate change challenge.
Managing methane emissions is largely about the development and deployment of technology, an area in which Alberta has played a leading role. With its robust regulatory system, including established conservation requirements, limits on flaring and venting and guidelines to minimize fugitive emissions, the province has made significant progress towards established goals for methane emissions reduction.
Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan sets a target of reducing methane emissions from oil and gas production by 45 percent by 20253. We believe Alberta’s plan establishes Canada as a climate leader among the world’s fossil fuel producing nations and that its methane provisions will play an important role in determining the country’s overall approach. The plan is expected to address methane emissions from both existing and new facilities and to enhance measurement and reporting requirements.
Alberta’s methane reduction targets are largely consistent with the goals announced by the federal government as part of a joint statement with the United States in March of 2016. We believe the joint statement is a positive step because it emphasizes the importance of creating a level playing field across North America, not just for methane emissions, but for climate policy in general. Ensuring North American oil and gas producers are focused on shared climate goals is good for both the environment and the continued competitiveness of the Canadian energy sector.
Managing methane emissions at Cenovus
Solar panel powering pumps at one of our oil well sites in our conventional operations.
Courtesy: Sirius Instrumentation and Controls Inc.
Methane is the primary component of the natural gas we produce in our operations. Methane emissions mostly occur from venting and from leaks, also called fugitive emissions. Leaks can come from a variety of production equipment including connectors, seals and valves. We have been proactively tracking and managing our methane emissions for many years. As part of this work, we have implemented a new system for reporting fuel gas, flared gas and vented gas that is not continuously measured. We also implemented a fugitive emissions management program for all of our operations in 2010. We voluntarily reduce our methane emissions through initiatives under our Energy Efficiency Fund as well.
We have installed a variety of technologies and recovery systems across our operations to manage methane emissions. For example:
- We’re using our extensive natural gas infrastructure in southern Alberta to collect and process natural gas that’s produced with our oil, which we’re then able to sell
- We use compressed air rather than natural gas at our oil sands facilities and most of our conventional facilities to operate pneumatic equipment. Using compressed air eliminates the methane emissions that would occur from using natural gas.
- Where possible we use electric motor drive pumps, instead of pneumatic pumps that use natural gas for fuel. Where we do need to use pneumatic instruments, we’ve been installing low-bleed versions at wellsite facilities to reduce methane emissions.
- We’ve installed solar panels at some of our conventional oil and natural gas sites to power equipment like chemical pumps
- Buildings at our production facilities are equipped with continuous gas monitoring instruments that activate alarms, or shutdown operations if gas leaks are detected
- We’ve implemented a company-wide leak detection and repair program which has provided us with more than five years of data to help improve the way we manage emissions
- We ensure that our gas well completion process is designed to reduce emissions and conserve gas as much as possible, in compliance with Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) Directive 060: Upstream Petroleum Industry Flaring, Incinerating and Venting. When gas must be flared, the regulations restrict the duration of flaring as well as the volume of gas that may be flared.
Energy efficiency initiatives at Cenovus
Our Energy Efficiency Fund focuses on improving energy efficiencies in our day-to-day operations and processes. We invest funds into the use of technologies that contribute to a reduction in our energy consumption and related reductions in GHG emissions in our operations, and we disclose those reductions as part of the CDP Climate Disclosure Canadian Leadership Index.
As a result of the Energy Efficiency Fund, in 2015, we switched over 900 lightbulbs to LED bulbs at our camps in northern Alberta. We also successfully installed over 1,000 water-efficient toilets at our camps to reduce our water consumption by about 20 percent.
In Calgary, the Information Technology group launched a company-wide project to reduce the costs associated with our information systems using a variety of measures including applying email retention policies and retiring unused applications and servers. As a result, the project had significant energy efficiency benefits, reducing both the physical footprint and power requirements of our information systems. By the end of 2015, we were using 19 percent less energy for our information systems.
Over the years, we’ve also implemented a number of initiatives across our operations that continue to provide energy efficiency benefits:
- Retrofitted our natural gas compression facilities to install air-fuel ratio controllers to increase the fuel efficiency of our engines, and vent gas capture systems to conserve gas that is normally vented to the atmosphere. Alberta’s Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation provided $2.68 million in funding for this project, which has reduced our CO2 equivalent emissions by about 17,500 tonnes per year.
- Installed an 80 megawatt cogeneration electricity plant at our Foster Creek oil sands project. About 60 percent of the daily electricity output from the plant is used to power our operations and the rest is exported into the Alberta grid. We also plan to start running a similar 100 megawatt cogeneration system at our Christina Lake oil sands project in late 2016.
- Installed a continuous variable transmission at a compressor station fan in our conventional oil and natural gas operations. The variable transmission helps reduce fan speed when temperatures fall and increase when temperatures rise. It’s expected that the system will result in up to a 90 percent reduction in electricity losses.
- Installed instrument air compressors at our oil sands and most of our conventional oil and gas facilities. These compressors use compressed air instead of natural gas to operate pneumatic equipment, eliminating the venting of methane from this equipment.
- Installed a variable frequency drive on one of our pump jack motors in our Weyburn operations. The drive not only results in lower power demand, but also allows us to capture the regeneration energy a pump jack produces that is currently being wasted. This pilot project resulted in about a 15 percent reduction in energy consumption for the pump jack, which is equal to over 40 tonnes CO2 equivalent emissions reduction per year.
Did you know?
Since 2004, we’ve reduced carbon emissions intensity from our oil sands production by about a third.
Our oil sands projects are some of the most efficient in the industry, however our operations produce a variety of air emissions, including nitrogen oxides (NOx), as a result of burning or releasing natural gas, sulphur oxides (SO2), methane and volatile organic compounds. We address these emissions by:
- Improving how we collect data – more accurate data helps us to determine ways to reduce our impact even further
- Installing scavenger units at each of our oil sands facilities for sulphur removal per the limits set by Alberta’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act
- Using flue gas recirculation technology where appropriate to significantly reduce NOx emissions
- Engaging in discussions with government to help develop effective air quality policies at provincial and federal levels
Air monitoring at our Christina Lake oil sands project.
Direct GHG emissions
The increase in company-wide and oil sands direct GHG emissions was mostly due to a nine percent increase in oil sands production as we continue to expand plant capacity at our oil sands sites.
Direct GHG emissions intensity – oil sands
We were able to keep our GHG emissions intensity (the amount of GHG emissions we emit per barrel of production) at relatively steady levels in 2015. This is a result of our energy efficiency initiatives and our drive to maintain industry-leading low steam use through innovations such as electric submersible pumps and flue gas recirculation.
In 2015, our company-wide energy use increased slightly. This was primarily due to a five percent increase in energy use at our oil sands operations partly because we started operating an expansion phase at Foster Creek mid-year and an optimization project at Christina Lake in late 2015. This increase was offset by a decrease in energy use due to decreased conventional oil and natural gas production.
The decrease in energy use intensity in 2015 was primarily due to our efforts to improve energy efficiency in our operations. At our conventional operations, we are using equipment such as air-fuel ratio controllers to be more energy efficient. At our oil sands operations, we’re reducing the amount of steam required per barrel of oil produced through innovations such as Wedge Well™ technology. Company-wide values prior to 2015 have been restated. Please refer to the data table and footnote EM-10.
Cumulative mass of CO2 injected at Weyburn
We inject CO2 deep underground at our enhanced oil recovery project in Weyburn, Saskatchewan. In 2015, we injected over two million tonnes of new CO2, which is the equivalent of 33 percent of our company-wide direct GHG emissions for 2015. To date, we have safely injected over 27 million tonnes of CO2 at Weyburn.
SO2 emissions (including intensity)
The increase in our SO2 emissions was primarily due to a higher number of flaring events at our Weyburn facility because of a variety of changing conditions within the facility including high temperatures and a power outage. Production increases in our oil sands operations in 2015 also contributed to the increase in emissions. We recover over 70 percent of sulphur, per our commitments in the facilities' environmental approvals.
NOx emissions (including intensity)
NOx is the by-product of the fuel combustion process. NOx emissions decreased in our conventional operations in 2015 because we retrofitted existing compressors with technology to burn fuel more efficiently. The decrease in NOx emissions intensity reflects the shift of our total production towards oil sands, which is less NOx intensive than our conventional oil and natural gas operations. For example, at Christina Lake, the three most recent phases that are fully in operation have NOx emissions at least 40 to 50 percent below the regulatory threshold of 400 tonnes.
Total gas flared
Flaring is a controlled burning of natural gas. In 2015, the amount of gas flared across the company increased because we had a number of unforeseen flaring events at our Weyburn facility, primarily due to changing conditions within the facility. Furthermore, we’ve implemented a fuel, flare and vent management program across our conventional assets aimed at improving the quality of measurement and reporting of flaring data.
Total gas vented
Venting is a controlled release of natural gas into the atmosphere. In 2015, we had an increase in venting because we made improvements to our measurement and reporting process which allowed us to more effectively track the total gas vented. This was largely due to the implementation of our fuel, flare and vent management program, which allowed us to capture data on a larger scope of vented volumes in our conventional oil and natural gas operations. We also undertook efforts to improve tracking of estimated oil sands venting volumes using approved methodologies.
Methane emissions (including intensity) – company wide
Methane emissions (including intensity) – oil sands
Our methane emissions primarily come from vented gas activity in our operations. We had higher methane emissions in 2015 largely due to the implementation of our fuel, flare and vent management program across our conventional assets, which allowed us to capture data on a larger scope of vented gas volumes. We also undertook efforts to improve tracking of estimated oil sands venting volumes using approved methodologies. We aim to improve our management of methane emissions through a variety of technologies and recovery systems we have installed across our operations.