We are committed to maintain and improve air quality near our operations and to preserve healthy ecosystems through investments in technology and promoting continuous improvement in our operations.
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In 2009, we established a very challenging goal to reduce our absolute air emissions by 10% while growing our oil sands mining and in situ assets. This target required each of our business areas to focus on reducing air emissions through improved reliability of our operations and equipment upgrades while maintaining our growth strategy. An increase in production typically means higher air emissions, making absolute reductions more difficult with growth plans.
We are pleased to report that not only did we achieve our goal, but we exceeded it by an additional 19% resulting in an overall reduction of total air emissions of 29% when compared to our baseline from 2007. Our results saw significant reductions at our oil sands Base Plant, Terra Nova and some of our refineries.
Air emissions at our in situ facilities increased due to increased production at Firebag and MacKay River. However, our Firebag operations did achieve nearly 50% reduction in SO2 due to improved reliability resulting in less flaring.
Further information on our performance is below: >
Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
In 2015, company-wide SO2 emissions and emissions intensity decreased by 20% and 25%, respectively as compared to 2014.
A significant reduction in SO2 emissions of more than 24% was achieved at our oil sands Base Plant mainly from reduced flaring on site. This decrease in flaring can be primarily attributed to the increased plant reliability achieved in 2015. In addition, efficient management of the coke fired boilers operations decreased in SO2 emissions. SO2 emissions from our in situ facilities also decreased by 32% due to reduced flaring at our Firebag facility.
SO2 emissions from our downstream operations decreased by 8% in 2015 as compared to 2014. This was slightly offset by an increase in SO2 emissions at the Montreal sulphur plant mainly due to preventive maintenance of the SO2 scrubber on site.
SO2 emissions from Terra Nova and North America Onshore (NAO) facilities decreased by 31% in 2015 when compared to 2014 emissions mainly from reduced combustion emissions. However, performance data has not been included in the chart below as it does not materially impact our business.
Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
The overall company-wide absolute NOx emissions were relatively flat in 2015 compared to 2014, and emissions intensity decreased by 5% in 2014.
Absolute NOx emissions from our oil sands and in situ facilities increased by 4% in 2015 and are mainly from increased production in 2015.
Overall NOx emissions from our downstream operations decreased by 4%. The decrease in NOx emissions at our Denver and Edmonton refineries was slightly offset by an increase in emissions at our Sarnia and Montreal refineries as well as from pipeline and terminal operations.
NOx emissions from Terra Nova also decreased by 18% in 2015 when compared to 2014 emissions and is mainly attributed to a decrease in production. Production from Terra Nova decreased in 2015 mainly due to increased unplanned maintenance activities in 2015 when compared to 2014 as well as declines of natural production as this asset matures. Performance data for NAO and other business units has not been included in the chart below as it does not materially impact our business.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
In 2015, company-wide absolute VOC emissions and emissions intensity increased by 21% and 14%, respectively as compared to 2014.
While overall VOC emissions from our in situ facilities decreased in 2015, there was an increase in the VOC emissions from Base Plant mainly from the mining areas, dedicated disposal sites and ponds.
Annually, we measure our fugitive VOC emissions from mining areas, dedicated disposal sites and ponds. The measurement program is in accordance with the 2014 Alberta Environment & Sustainable Resource Development (now Alberta Environment and Parks) guidelines. However, the methodology recommended to conduct fugitive emissions monitoring is highly dependent on weather conditions and technology constraints and results in significant uncertainty in the accuracy of the measurements. Collaborative efforts are underway through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance to improve accuracy of fugitive atmospheric emissions monitoring. This increase in VOC emissions was slightly offset by a decrease in our fugitive emissions measurements from equipment leaks.
The overall downstream VOC emissions were relatively flat in 2015 compared to 2014. The decrease in VOC emissions at our Sarnia refinery, terminals and pipeline operations were slightly offset by increases in emissions at our Edmonton, Montreal and Denver refineries and at the Lubricants facility.
VOC emissions at the Terra Nova facility also increased as the hydrocarbon blanket gas was only 85% efficient in 2015 versus almost 100% in 2014. Performance data for NAO and other business units have not been included in the chart below as it does not materially impact our business.
What is odour?
Odour is defined as a quality of something that is perceived by human’s sense of smell. Odours are subjective and different individuals will identify and sense an odour at varying concentrations. Odours are monitored as part of regulatory and stakeholder requirements at our operations.
Odour monitoring in the wood buffalo region
Suncor engages regularly with community stakeholders, government and other external agencies on odours to discuss best practices and management strategies.
Suncor is currently engaged with government, industry and external stakeholders to develop an improved odour management system. This process was a result of Suncor’s proactive management of community concerns related to odours. In early 2014 Suncor organized meetings between industry and community members to have an initial discussion about their concerns, and a follow up meeting was held in early 2015 at which time Alberta Health was engaged to address concerns about health impacts from the community. These meetings demonstrated a need for further work regarding odours in the community, for which Suncor remains engaged.
Suncor is pro-actively researching and testing new methods and technologies to monitor fugitive emissions. In 2014, we tested a new fugitive emissions monitoring technology (Open Path-Fourier Transform Infrared (OP-FTIR) remote sensing) to improve the accuracy of our estimation. R&D and field validation of new measurement technologies will continue with other industry members, government, and academia over the next few years.
Air quality monitoring
We are a member of the Alberta-based Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA), which monitors air quality across the oil sands region 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. WBEA provides ambient air quality data and a real-time air quality index (updated hourly) that are available to the public through the WBEA website.
We also support air monitoring through the following multi-stakeholder airsheds/organizations which monitor and report air quality around the clock, and ensure timely availability of air quality monitoring results to the public and government agencies, as required.
- We collaborate with the Service de l’environnement de la ville de Montréal by providing ambient air quality monitoring data for reporting and analysis.
We also continuously work with governments, industry peers and other stakeholders to ensure these additional monitoring measures are implemented effectively and efficiently as we pursue the shared goal of minimizing the impact of oil sands development on regional air quality.