Canadian oil sands: a source of secure, accessible and affordable energy

Through the responsible development of its oil sands, Canada continues to play an increasingly important role in meeting rising global energy demand.

Article Sept. 17, 2018

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Canadian oil sands: a source of secure, accessible and affordable energy

Canada’s oil sands

Oil sands are a naturally occurring mixture of heavy oil — called bitumen — water and sand. Producers use mining or in-situ extraction methods to recover bitumen, depending on the depth of the reserves. For in-situ recovery, producers inject steam into underground reservoirs that contain bitumen. The steam heats the bitumen and reduces its intensity, enabling it to flow and be produced. About 80 percent of Canada’s oil sands reserves are recoverable using in-situ techniques. The remaining 20 percent are shallow enough to be recovered through mining operations. The footprint of these operations is considerable, requiring careful environmental planning and management.

Oil will remain the world’s largest energy source in 2040, meeting about one-third of demand. Nearly 95 percent of current transportation energy needs are met by oil, and global energy demand for transportation is projected to increase by about 30 percent by 2040.

Canada’s oil sands represent a tremendous source of secure, accessible and affordable energy to help strengthen global energy security.

The availability of such a resource, co-located with North American markets, is even more attractive today for two reasons. First, many conventional onshore oil fields are maturing; meeting rising energy demand requires new production from less traditional resources, like oil sands. Second, most of the world’s remaining reserves are owned or controlled by national governments. Canada’s oil sands constitute a considerable percentage of the total global oil reserves accessible for private sector investment.

For more than 60 years, Canada’s energy sector has provided a reliable supply of affordable energy to U.S. and Canadian markets, as well as jobs, tax revenue and royalties, and ever-evolving technological innovation that serves as an engine for economic growth on both sides of the border.

Even with increased domestic oil production, the United States will continue to rely on oil imported from Canada to meet growing energy demand. Canada's oil sands are the largest source of foreign oil imported by the United States. Asia and Europe are also potentially growing markets as their needs increase.

Responsible development

ExxonMobil and its Canadian affiliate Imperial understand there is concern among a range of stakeholders regarding the development of oil sands. Innovation in oil sands technology underpins our ability to continue to develop this resource safely and responsibly.

ExxonMobil and Imperial are developing and deploying incremental and game-changing technologies to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impacts at our oil sands facilities. Next-technologies will enable ExxonMobil to produce Canada’s oil sands with about the same life-cycle GHG emissions levels as many other crude oils refined in the United States.

ExxonMobil and Imperial are committed to operating in a way that protects the environment, complies fully with all laws and regulations and takes into account the economic and social needs of the communities where we operate. Our environmental policy commits us to designing, operating and managing our facilities with the goal of preventing incidents and reducing adverse impacts.

ExxonMobil and Imperial recognize that with this opportunity comes significant responsibility — to maintain the strong balance between development and protection of the environment. And the keys to maintaining that balance are innovation and technology.

ExxonMobil heavy equipment operator
Photo Jamie Alliban, heavy equipment operator at the he Kearl oil sands mining operation in Alberta

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Environmental initiatives

ExxonMobil considers risk at every stage of development, and we continuously work to manage environmental impacts.

Risk management and safety

ExxonMobil remains steadfast in its commitment to excellence in Safety, Security, Health and Environmental (SSH&E) performance, referred to collectively as Operations Integrity.

Energy efficiency

ExxonMobil constantly strives to improve performance and streamline our processes in order to improve energy efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

Industry innovation and efficient next-generation technologies

Next-generation technologies are improving oil sands production efficiency, which reduces both the environmental impact and cost often associated with production. To date, Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) member companies have shared more than 936 distinct technologies and innovations that cost more than $1.33 billion (CDN) to develop. These numbers are increasing as the alliance matures and expands.

ExxonMobil and Imperial are leaders in the development of emerging technologies that are improving the efficiency of oil sands production and minimizing environmental impacts.

Our Kearl operation, for example, using advanced mining techniques, energy-saving cogeneration and producing diluted bitumen without an upgrader, will result in about the same life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as many other oils refined in the United States.

The use of solvent-assisted steam assisted gravity drainage (SA-SAGD) at our Aspen in-situ oil sands project will result in about a 25-percent reduction in GHG intensity through lower energy utilization, compared to traditional SAGD production, as well as reduced water requirements — while resulting in a 25-40 percent improvement in production yield.

ExxonMobil and Imperial are committed to further advances in technology.

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