Thursday, May 9, 2013

Canada is Banking on Carbon Capture to Offset Tar Sands

Canada is hoping the carbon capture and storage (CCS) can help to mollify its increasingly isolated position vis-a-vis the the nation’s failure to limit emissions. The tar sands are a significant contributor to Canada’s rising greenhouse gas emissions. The Canadian tar sands industry now generates between 40 and 50 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, or around 7 percent of the Canada’s total emissions.

This will be the first commercial scale test of CCS technology which requires an expansive network of pipelines, capture facilities, and storage reservoirs. However, large scale CCS is unproven and the technology is both costly and risky.

The Athabascan tar sands are located in Alberta, and the province has committed over $1.2 billion to two CCS projects meant to capture, transport, and store carbon dioxide usually emitted during the oil sands production process.

Currently there are two federally supported projects being considered. One will be at a large processing facility run by Shell called Quest. The other project is called Alberta Carbon Trunk Line, it will connect multiple capture sites to operations that will use the captured carbon dioxide to recover hard-to-reach oil, a process called enhanced oil recovery.

The CCS projects will capture carbon dioxide from “upgraders,” which convert the bitumen extracted from the oil sands into synthetic crude oil. Extracting and producing oil from tar sands emits as much as 4.5 times more carbon dioxide per barrel than does the production of conventional crude. Upgraders are responsible for roughly half the emissions associated with oil sands production. Going forward the tar sands industry claims it will also capture carbon from certain extraction sites as well.

Mike Fernandez, executive director of sustainable energy for Alberta’s energy ministry says the goal is to be injecting and storing 2.76 megatons by late 2015, and 139 megatons by 2050.

Stronger policy incentives are required for CCS to be viable at the scale. Currently Alberta’s high emitters must reduce their emissions by 12 percent or pay $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted. This price is far too to scale up CCS.

If all goes as planned, Canada’s proposed CCS effort will start small in 2015 and then grow over the coming decades.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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