Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) has released its 2020 annual report, Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Oil. The document highlights some pretty impressive statistics regarding investment and development of technologies focused on COSIA’s four priority areas of air, land, tailings and water.
Since COSIA was established in 2012, industry members have invested $1.8 billion to support 1,143 technologies to improve environmental performance in the oil sands sector. In 2020, 233 active projects were underway at a total investment of $531 million.
Those innovations are making a difference:
- Oil sands mining operators have reduced net water use intensity from the Athabasca River and its tributaries by 25 per cent, down to 1.4 barrels of water per barrel of oil produced (from 2.2 barrels in 2012).
- In situ operators have reduced fresh water use by 46 per cent, down to 0.19 barrels of water per barrel of oil produced (from 0.36 barrels in 2012).
- In situ operators have reduced their operating footprint intensity by six per cent since 2012.
- Since 2013, the production-weighted average upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of the oil sands has been reduced by 14 per cent for mining operations and eight per cent for in situ operations.
Among the success stories featured in the annual report are:
- An outdoor trial that used native plants, especially thirsty sandbar willow, to remove water from tailings. The goal was to turn tailings into a denser material that could be used in land reclamation. Sandbar willows outperformed other plant species with the help of some microscopic friends.
- Researchers at the once-through steam generator (OSTG) lab at Calgary’s SAIT technical training facility are investigating ways to minimize GHG emissions and reduce water use in oil sands boilers that make the steam and hot water needed to extract bitumen. Research on boiler erosion and corrosion can also benefit other industries with similar equipment and processes.
- Leading wetlands scientist and researcher Jan Ciborowski, working at the University of Calgary, is involved in measuring the success of wetland reclamation. The oil sands are primarily located in the boreal forest region of northeastern Alberta, an area dominated by wetlands such as ponds, bogs and fens.
- COSIA has been investigating the use of small modular reactors (SMRs) as a power source for oil sands mining, bitumen extraction and upgrading.
COSIA’s success is due in large part to its unique model of collaboration and knowledge sharing among members, to the benefit of the entire oil sands industry. Harnessing the power of collaboration from across Canada and around the world has allowed COSIA to tackle tough challenges including emissions reduction and tailings management. In bringing together leading thinkers from industry, government, academia and the public to develop, test, and implement technologies, COSIA makes it possible for the oil sands industry to minimize environmental impact while also supplying oil to meet global energy demand.
COSIA’s CEO Wes Jickling says, “This work of enhancing the sustainability of one of Canada’s major natural resources, while enabling economic opportunity is perhaps more important now than ever as Canada looks to embark on a sustainable recovery.”