The academic journal Environmental Science & Technology showcased a study by a team of scientists from the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto that showed low-emitting oil sands outperform high-emission conventional crudes over their life cycles.
The study used a well-to-wheel (WTW) approach to perform the lifecycle analysis and,
according to the authors, is the first ever to use confidential data sourced from oil sands projects. The team developed a new approach to constructing their basic data, nicknamed GHOST, in an effort to counteract existing research models which rely on often-outdated public data.
GHOST accounted for emissions all across the fuel extraction process and focused on nine main oil sands pathways.
They discovered that surface mining dilbit produced the lowest emissions, while in situ SCO (synthetic crude oil) pathways exhibited the highest emissions.
From the study:
“The focus on oil sands GHG emissions must be integrated into a more comprehensive view of reducing emissions across the entire economy and expanding this focus to other environmental impacts such as those on air, land, and water.”
The study contains recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including lowering steam-to-oil ratios, reducing the use of natural gas in surface mining, using more sustainable fuels in place of natural gas, and adjusting technology to lower emissions.
This could be good news for surface miners in the Canadian oil sands. 34 billion bbl of that oil is recoverable through surface mining.
Low emissions are something Canadian miners might strive for, as Canada has a goal of reducing emissions from 2005 by 17 percent by 2020. As this study is released, oil sands companies involved in surface mining, and especially those focused on reducing emissions further, could stand to profit.