GHG 101: Understanding Greenhouse Gases

GHG stands for greenhouse gases.

Q: What are GHGs?
GHG stands for greenhouse gases. These are a group of gases in our atmosphere that trap heat from the sun, preventing it from escaping into space. Common GHGs are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Q: How do GHGs relate to climate change?
GHGs are one of the main factors in global warming, which is a gradual rise in the earth’s temperature over the long term. Climate change describes both global warming and its effects, such as sea level rise.

Q: Where do GHGs come from?
Many GHGs are naturally present in the atmosphere and that’s a good thing otherwise Earth would look a lot like Mars! The most prevalent GHG in our atmosphere is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is added to and subtracted from the atmosphere through a natural process call the carbon cycle. Carbon dioxide is also added to the atmosphere by the combustion of fossil fuels.

Q: How do we measure GHGs?
The ability of GHGs to trap heat is measured by a scale called the Global Warming Potential (GWP). GWP is a measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas can trap in the atmosphere, relative to carbon dioxide, over a specific period of time.

The higher the GWP number, the more one molecule of gas can heat up the atmosphere. For example, methane has a GWP of 25. That means one molecule of methane gas can trap 25 times more heat than one molecule of carbon dioxide over 100 years in the atmosphere.

Q: What industries produce GHGs?
In Canada, many industries emit greenhouse gases include transportation, electricity, cement, chemicals, manufacturing, buildings, agriculture the oil sands and waste. All greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada make up less than 1.5 percent of the global total.

Q: How are GHGs produced in the oil sands?
The oil sands industry produces greenhouse gases during the process of extracting bitumen (oil) from the ground. Most of the oil in the oil sands is not mined, but recovered in-situ, or underground, using steam, which heats the thick bitumen enabling it to flow to the surface. In order to generate steam, natural gas is burned in a large boiler creating CO2 emissions. Sometimes the steam is run through a gas turbine generator to generate electricity.

In surface mining operations, most CO2 is emitted by the haul trucks moving the mined material and the steam used to separate the bitumen from the other materials extracted in the mining process (like sand). 
The oil sands contribute about one-tenth of GHG emissions generated in Canada, or 0.15% of global emissions.

Q: How is the oil sands industry mitigating GHGs?
Reducing GHG emissions is an important global issue and COSIA is helping oil sands producers accelerate their performance in this area. COSIA members have invested more than $217 million in greenhouse gas projects and together have developed 165 unique contributions towards reducing emissions. Good progress has been made and clean tech innovation is forecast to further reduce industry GHGs by up to 30 percent in the next five years.

Check back to find out more about the different GHG technologies being explored and the people behind them.

Find out more about the innovative work COSIA members are doing to increasingly reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions in the oil sands. 

If you’re an innovator and you want to play a game-changing role in reducing GHG emissions, you may be interested in our GHG Innovation Opportunity. 

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