Sustainable Energy

In Canada, oil sands companies are teaming up to try and reduce their environmental impact

Oil sands companies are teaming up to try and reduce their environmental impact

The world's second largest country by area, Canada is also home to the oil sands, the third largest proven oil reserve on the planet, according to its government. The Canadian government adds that the oil sands are home to 166.3 billion barrels of the country's 171 billion barrels of proven reserves.

The scale of the work being done at the oil sands is considerable. According to Alberta Energy, oil sands production is set to increase to 4 million barrels per day by 2024, up from 2.3 million barrels per day in 2014.

For their part, Canadian authorities acknowledge that annual production growth "presents several environmental challenges to land, water, air, and energy conservation."

Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) is made up of oil sands producers who want to work together to accelerate the speed of "improvement in environmental performance" in the oil sands.

Dan Wicklum is the alliance's chief executive. "We have 10 members that account for about 90 percent of the daily oil sands production in Canada," he told Sustainable Energy.

"It was launched by the most senior leaders of these companies – the CEOs – as a sign of personal commitment, and a commitment of their companies to work together, to accelerate environmental performance improvement," he added.

Members of the alliance are pooling their ideas to find ways to mitigate the impact of their work.

Ian Willms | Getty Images

"To date, the COSIA members have shared about 938 discreet individual technologies or innovations," Wicklum said, before going on to list one example of the collaborative work being undertaken.

"We set a goal in 2012 to reduce our freshwater use intensity by 50 percent by 2022, and since 2012 the companies have reduced their freshwater use by 38 percent," he added.

Another initiative is using a satellite – called GHGSat but also known as Claire – to measure the impact of work being carried out at the oil sands.

"It's about the size of a microwave and it circles the Earth, goes over that oil sands region about once every two weeks," Wickum said. The satellite enabled more accurate and frequent measurements, he went on to say, giving companies the ability to see whether the technologies they're using for greenhouse gas reduction are working effectively.