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Managing our environmental impact

Inspector testing the reliability of equipment at Jackpine mine, Alberta, Canada (photo)
An inspector tests the reliability of
equipment at Jackpine mine at
Shell Albian Sands.
Alberta, Canada.

We aim to operate our oil sands facilities responsibly and efficiently, and to reduce our environmental impact through improved management of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, water, waste and land. We are governed by a number of regulations including standards for managing waste and reducing mining by-products (tailings).

We also design our projects to reduce our environmental impact. Our Carmon Creek in-situ project, which is currently under construction in Alberta, includes a water reuse system, use of waste gas to power the plant, a land reclamation strategy to reduce land use and steps to protect local species. The project is expected to produce 80,000 barrels of bitumen a day.

Shell is a member of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) which aims to accelerate the development of environmental technologies by sharing information among oil sands operators. Currently, COSIA’s 13 members have shared over 700 technologies, valued at nearly C$1 billion in intellectual property. In 2014, Shell was one of six COSIA companies to sign a joint funding commitment of C$165 million to build a centre in Alberta that will be used to develop, test and improve water treatment and recycling technologies.

Managing CO2 emissions

On a life cycle basis – from production through to use as a transport fuel – oil sands emit 4−23% more greenhouse gas emissions than the average crude oil used in the USA, according to research by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA).

To help manage CO2 emissions we are building the oil sands industry’s first carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility, Quest, in Alberta. Quest is expected to capture up to 1 million tonnes of CO2 a year from the Scotford Upgrader. It will start operating in 2015. (See “Carbon capture and storage”). The knowledge gained from Quest will be shared with other operators through COSIA to encourage the uptake of CCS.

Water use and recycling

We use around 1.1 barrels of water from the Athabasca River for every barrel of bitumen extracted from our mining operations. Our water recycling rate is around 80%, which reduces the amount of river water we need to draw. (See diagram under “Tailings”, step 2). We withdrew less than 0.6% of the Athabasca River’s average annual flow in 2014.

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

Land reclamation

“We work to reduce the impact of development on traditional land use and culture, and to create local employment and contracting opportunities.”

Mine development plans cover the full life of the mine from initial site preparation to final reclamation. We have had ongoing discussions with indigenous communities to minimise our impact of the mine development on these communities. Once mining operations are completed, we are required to restore the land to equivalent capability, so that it can sustain the plants and animals that are native to the area.

As parts of the mine become ready for reclamation we build a contoured landscape, cover this with the rock and soil that was removed before mining began and replant the area. In 2014, we worked closely with indigenous communities to ensure the landscape will support traditional land use and indigenous environmental knowledge is reflected in the restoration process. (See diagram under “Tailings”, step 4).