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In June 2021 a group of oilsands producers rolled out their plan to reduce GHG emissions from their operations to zero by 2050. The announcement was largely overlooked because it came on the same day that TC Energy announced the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. However, the companies have continued to spread the word on the project. It is an ambitious plan to reduce emissions in stages, beginning with 2030 and 2040 goals. Ultimately, the objective is to eliminate all emissions by 2050.

The plan is based on reducing process emissions through such measures as lowering emissions from the electricity generation sources used in oilsands production. That would involve switching to natural gas, hydrogen, or Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs). The core of the plan, however, is the capture and transmission of CO2 to a large storage facility near Cold Lake, Alberta.

Current estimates are for an average investment of $2.5 billion/year over the course of the next 30 years. The target for 2030 is to store 8.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year. This would increase to a maximum of 40 million tonnes per year, to be drawn from 20 facilities in the province. Given that oilsands operations currently produce about 68 million tonnes, the difference would likely be accounted for by lowering the emissions from production processes.

The plan still faces significant financial, technological, and public relations challenges. Despite the tax measures in the federal budget to support carbon capture usage and storage, some in the industry question whether they will be enough. Also, in the period between 2040 and 2050 the plan relies on technologies that have yet to be developed. And finally, some have challenged the use of the funds to be dedicated to the project, saying instead that they should be directed to the reduction of the use of petroleum. Industry counters by saying that petroleum demand is growing and will continue to grow despite the expansion of renewable energy and improvements in the efficiency of energy use. Industry’s challenge is to meet demand in a way that eliminates emissions from their operations.