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Environmental performance

Dr. Dan Wicklum, Chief Executive, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Calgary, Alberta, Canada (photo)

External opinion

“COSIA is an alliance of oil sands producers, established in 2012 and representing 90% of production from the Canadian oil sands. The COSIA members aim to improve environmental performance in Canada’s oil sands through collaborative action and innovation. Member companies are currently working on 185 joint industry projects across four key environmental areas of land, water, tailings and greenhouse gases.

Some of the environmental technologies and innovations shared through COSIA are already being put to use to accelerate the pace of environmental performance improvement. As Shell pursues its Carmon Creek oil sands project in north-west Alberta, it will draw on expertise shared through COSIA in building pipelines that reduce the impact on land.”

Dr. Dan Wicklum
Chief Executive, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Managing CO2 emissions

We continue to operate responsibly to reduce our environmental impact by working on ways to improve the management of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, water and land in our oil sands operations. Oil sands typically emit 4% to 23% more greenhouse gas emissions than the average crude consumed in the USA from production through to use as a transport fuel, according to Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA). We are working to manage our CO2 emissions by improving energy efficiency and using lower-carbon energy supplies. With the support of the Canadian government we are also building a carbon capture and storage facility, Quest, that is linked to the Scotford Upgrader (see “Carbon capture and storage”).

Collaboration with other companies can help us to develop technologies that reduce our environmental impact. For example, we are founding members of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), which brings oil sands producers together to share environmental technologies (see opinion).

Water use and recycling

We use around 1.2 barrels of river water from the Athabasca River for every barrel of bitumen extracted from our mining operations. No water used in our mining and extraction processes is returned to the river, and our recycle rate is more than 75%. While Shell has permits to withdraw 0.6% of the Athabasca River’s average annual flow, we used less than 0.08% in 2013.

In 2013, Scotford Upgrader operations used around 0.4 barrels of river water from the North Saskatchewan River for every barrel of bitumen that was upgraded. Around 90% of the waste water from the upgrading is reused in operations.

Tailings and reclamation

Oil sands mining generates tailings, a mixture of water, sand, clay and residual hydrocarbons that remain after the bitumen is extracted. They contain concentrated naturally occurring chemicals that are toxic. We store them either in tailings ponds or in mined-out pits. Once the sand and clay have settled the water is recycled at our mines, reducing the need for river water in our operations.

Tailings ponds at the Muskeg River and Jackpine mines covered 24 km2 at the end of 2013. Shell has invested over C$250 million since 2005 in developing technologies to speed up the tailings drying process. We actively share this research and work with other companies to find solutions. The Alberta government has regulations in place to reduce the amount of liquid tailings and we continue to work with it to meet these requirements.

We aim to reclaim the land used in our oil sands mines by refilling the mined-out areas with dried tailings and restoring the contours of disturbed land, then placing topsoil and planting suitable vegetation. Reclamation is required by law. The land will be able to support local plants and animals, although it will not be exactly the same as the previous landscape. As we complete our mining operations, reclamation work is under way and will proceed in stages.