Canada’s oil and gas emissions went down in 2020: national inventory report

The Rush Lake thermal oil project in southwest Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy Cenovus Energy

Efforts by Canada’s oil and gas industry to reduce emissions are paying off, according to the latest data submitted by the federal government to the United Nations.  

Total emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector in 2020 were lower than they have been in over seven years, decreasing by nearly 12 per cent compared to 2019. 

At first blush, it could appear that the reduction is a result of production decreases in the early days of COVID-19 lockdowns. But a closer look at the data reveals that is not the whole story.  

Oil production did indeed go down significantly in early 2020, plummeting nearly 800,000 barrels per day between January and May, according to IHS Markit.  

But in part because oil production recovered to pre-pandemic levels within months, the overall decrease for the year was just 4.4 per cent. Meanwhile, natural gas production actually increased by 4.7 per cent, according to the Canada Energy Regulator.   

Total emissions from the oil and gas sector decreased by 11.8 per cent, to 179 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent from 203 million tonnes in 2019.  

The reduction is likely in part due to improved emissions intensity – or emissions per barrel of production – in the oil sands.  

Oil sands emissions intensity has been steadily decreasing for at least the last decade, going down 20 per cent between 2009 and 2020, IHS Markit says.  

The improvement comes from a combination of factors including improved efficiency at projects that combine oil sands mining and upgrading, and a greater share of production from less emissions-intensive operations. 

“The fact that GHG intensity continued to decline in 2020 is particularly noteworthy,” wrote Kevin Birn, IHS Markit’s head of GHG estimation, earlier this year in relation to a recent update on oil sands emissions.  

“This occurred despite the industry undergoing the single largest production contraction in its history because of the COVID 19 demand shock.” 

Because of the ongoing improvements in emissions intensity, the oil sands sector is on track to reduce total emissions – not just emissions per barrel – within the next five years, even as production continues to grow, IHS Markit projects.  

Canada’s 2022 National Inventory Report appears to confirm the successful trend.  

The unaltered reproduction of this content is free of charge with attribution to Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.   

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