Canada’s Alberta forks over $50 million for emissions cuts at oil sands

Another $30 million will go to help fund 12 projects that tackle methane emissions in the province.

The Canadian province of Alberta, the heart and soul of the oil sands industry, is offering $50 million to companies working on solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the industry’s cost competitiveness through a new innovation challenge.

Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA), which is funded by levies against the largest emitters in the province, said firms would be required to at least match the agency’s $50 million commitment, creating the opportunity for over $100 million in combined new investment.

“Albertans were the ones who determined how to get the oil out of the sand and made-in-Alberta innovation is going to get the carbon out of the barrel,” the province’s Minister of Energy, Margaret McCuaig-Boyd, said in the statement.

In a separate note, ERA also announced it awarded $30 million to help fund 12 projects designed to tackle methane emissions in the province.

Oil sands operations have been the target of relentless attacks as a number of studies have concluded they are more carbon-intensive than some of the lighter grades of oil found in the US.

Those initiatives, the agency said, should reduce methane emissions by more than 1.1 million tonnes by 2020 and more than 6.9 million tonnes by 2030.

The projects were chosen out of 118 submissions for the methane program, part of ERA’s overall role in funding climate change projects.

Oil sands operations have been the target of relentless attacks as a number of studies have concluded they are more carbon-intensive than some of the lighter grades of oil found in the Lower 48 US states.

Since 1990, the sector has spent more than $1 billion on technologies needed to produce oil with a lower environmental footprint, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The group noted greenhouse gas emissions are currently 30% lower per barrel than they were in 26 years ago.

In September last year, the province approved three new projects worth about $3 billion (Cdn$4bn) in potential investments, which involve the use of steam stimulation, the most common set of techniques for extracting heavy crude oil used in the province.

Those so-called in situ methods don’t need large tailings ponds, so they don’t create vast landscape disturbances as do open-pit mines. Because of that, they are often described as more environmentally friendly. That notion, however, has also been called into question recently.

To reduce criticism and align the province’s policies with most of Canada’s position regarding emissions reduction, Alberta introduce legislation last year to limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by oil sands operations. It also set a goal of reducing total methane emissions in the province by 45%t by 2025.