Taking on fugitive emissions

fugitive emissions management in oil sands

Canada’s oil sands industry is focused on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from oil sands operations. One source is fugitive emissions, the unintended release of GHGs, mainly methane, from mine pits and tailings ponds. 

“Tracking the release of GHG’s has unique challenges,” explains Brady Adkins, Environmental Coordinator at Canadian Natural and a member of COSIA’s Area Fugitives Working Group. “Through COSIA, industry is working to enhance our capabilities when it comes to managing fugitive emissions for industry to meet Canada’s climate goals.”

Industry is working collaboratively with the Alberta Energy Regulator to improve area fugitive emission measurement accuracy. “The challenge is how to best quantify fugitive emissions and determine what the best measurement tools are,” Adkins says. “The next challenge is to continue to develop technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Novel approaches

A number of novel approaches to measure emissions are being progressed with COSIA member companies. The ideal technology is portable, autonomous and able to operate in harsh remote environments, under all weather conditions, for extended periods of time. It must also be cost effective to facilitate industry wide adoption.

Traditionally, companies have used flux chambers to capture and analyze air samples from multiple locations, to provide an emission snapshot of the sites. Data points are extrapolated to determine annual emissions. “Although we can quantify fugitive emissions much better than we could even a couple of years ago, we still have a lot of opportunity for improvement. Collecting data from larger areas, over longer time spans, will allow us to achieve a higher degree of accuracy in our reporting,” Adkins says.

“The Area Fugitives Working Group is adding tools to our kit. We’re developing monitoring options in addition to standard flux chamber testing. This has been driven by technology advancement and combination.” Every mine has unique challenges requiring unique solutions, he says.

Promising innovation

Several promising innovations have emerged including satellite and drones sensor platforms, long range open path laser gas analysis, and atmospheric computer modeling. “Testing of these technologies has checked many of the wish list boxes. Commercial viability for some systems could be as close as 2022,” Adkins says. 

COSIA members believe it is possible to address climate change while meeting global demand for energy and supporting Canada’s economic development. To date, they have developed 175 GHG technologies at a cost of $249 million. Learnings from these innovations are shared widely offering benefits to other industries and potentially other countries too.

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