OIL/GAS SECTOR TRACKS IMPACTS
Canada’s oil and gas sector is on a mission to continuously improve its record on environmental stewardship. But it is not enough to work toward better environmental performance year over year; it is about identifying where challenges still exist and taking the necessary steps to overcome them.
To do that, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) initiated the Responsible Canadian Energy (RCE) program. Launched in 2010, RCE is a collective commitment by CAPP members to develop and apply stringent guidelines and processes to their operations, to measure and report performance relating to people, air, land and water, and to engage with the communities in which they work.
“One of the challenges that we have as an organization is finding, developing and implementing appropriate metrics that accurately reflect our performance,” says Scott Meakin, manager of corporate responsibility for CAPP. “Through RCE we are endeavouring to show our stakeholders that we are working pragmatically and diligently to get better at what we do.”
Each year, CAPP publicly demonstrates industry accountability and commitment in these areas with the release of an RCE Progress Report that provides information on industry performance for the previous year.
The purpose of the report is to put data and trends into context, and to gain an understanding of where improvements are needed. Information is reported by 100% of CAPP oil-and-gas producing member companies. CAPP’s members find and produce about 90% of Canada’s oil and natural gas.
Prior to publication, the RCE Progress Report is reviewed by an independent advisory group made up of senior experts and stakeholders representing the safety, environment, labour, aboriginal, academic, private, finance and investment sectors. Feedback from the advisory group review is made public, and it challenges the industry to respond to recommendations, manage its risk and improve performance.
Performance highlights from the recently released 2012 RCE Progress Report show improvements in a number of areas and a need for more action in others:
Amajor benefit of oil and gas activity is the social and economic benefit that it brings to local communities and to people across the country. From British Columbia and Alberta, to Newfoundland and Labrador, more than 550,000 Canadians were directly or indirectly employed in support of the oil and gas industry in 2011.
Governments collected $20-billion in taxes and royalties, which helped to support communities large and small. In the oil sands region, aboriginal companies benefitted from contracts valued in excess of $762-million.
Air quality metrics indicate a multiyear downward trend in sulphur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by the industry (9% and 6% respectively), despite an increase in operating facilities and production. SO2 and NOx emissions are produced almost exclusively from combustion activities where fuel is burned to power equipment at oil and gas operations.
“Some of the processes and technologies that have been applied to operations over the last decade have resulted in ongoing and continuing declines in these two air pollutants,” Mr. Meakin says. “The result is a reduction in absolute SO2 emissions by 37% since 2007 and a fifth consecutive year ofNOxdecline.”
The oil and gas industry is committed to progressively reclaim all lands affected by operations and return them to self-sustaining landscapes. Performance metrics include the number of active, inactive, abandoned and reclaimed wells, as well as the total area in the oil sands that is being reclaimed.
In 2011, 50% of the more than 32,000 abandoned conventional wells in Western Canada were undergoing reclamation/remediation. Twenty-three per cent are in the monitoring/assessment phase and are expected to be completed within the next three years. The remaining 27% are being risk-managed or held for future potential. While the active footprint of oil sands mining operations increased 7% from the previous year, 10% of that footprint is currently in the reclamation process (7,607 hectares). That percentage is consistent with 2010.
One of the primary RCE objectives for water is to continue to reduce the amount of fresh water required per barrel equivalent of production.
“As a growing industry we have a responsibility to reduce our effect on the environment,” says Tara Payment, manager of water and reclamation for CAPP.
“Water quality and quantity are important issues for stakeholders, so they are important to us. We want to demonstrate that we are committed to protecting water resources and to responsible water management.”
CAPP members continuously work to improve water recycling rates, to use alternatives to fresh water such as saline groundwater, and to develop new and innovative technologies to minimize water use.
The result is a continuing decline in water usage per barrel of oil or bitumen produced: Oil sands in situ production withdrew 0.4 barrels of fresh water per barrel of bitumen produced, consistent with the past three years and the best ratio achieved to date; conventional oil production withdrew 0.7 barrels of fresh water per barrel of oil produced, the best ratio in the last three years; and oil sands mining withdrew 2.7 barrels of fresh water per barrel of bitumen produced, the best ratio achieved in the past five years.
Although water recycling rates have been achieved in oil sands and conventional oil (80 to 95%, typically), CAPP members reported that hydraulic fracturing operations recycled five per cent of water in 2011, a number targeted for improvement.
To that end, the industry is advancing research initiatives and it has developed and adopted guiding principles and operating practices for hydraulic fracturing to address the issue. CAPP member conformance with these operating practices will be measured and reported in the 2013RCEProgress Report.
“Water is critical to our industry,” says Ms. Payment. “Continuous improvement is challenging and will require even greater innovation, but it is about raising the bar for the industry and showing accountability in all that we do.”
Terra Nova vessel, offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, left, oil pumpjack, Dalum, Alta., in situ oil operation, Wolf Lake, Ata., oil sands production, LowerAthabasca River, Alta. Canada’s oil and gas sector works continuously to improve its approach to environmental stewardship; an approach that includes identifying areas where it can improve on performance.