Oil sands CO2 to match conventional drilling in a decade

Carbon-dioxide emissions per barrel of oil produced from Alberta’s oil sands will probably fall to levels of conventional drilling in as little as a decade, Suncor Energy Inc. (SU)’s Chief Executive Officer Rick George said.

“With these new technologies, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we can actually get to conventional kind of levels in the next 10 to 15 years,” George said last night at an industry event in Calgary. “It’s not tomorrow. But I wouldn’t underestimate this industry’s resolve or ability to drive change.”

Oil-sands crude results in emissions from production and consumption in vehicles that are about 20 percent higher than the average emissions of conventional oil production in the U.S., according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Total emissions from the oil sands will likely increase eightfold from 1990 levels by 2020, Canada’s Pembina Institute says.

Canada holds the world’s third-largest crude reserves, behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which represents oil and gas companies. Those deposits are spurring investments that will be worth C$20 billion ($19.2 billion) annually, George said.

The industry is looking for ways to reduce the amount of energy, including natural gas, that is consumed to process bitumen and turn it into oil. Some companies are using chemicals and solvents to help reduce carbon emissions.

Companies including Total SA (FP) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) have invested in projects to separate bitumen, a thick form of oil, from sandy deposits in Alberta. Output from oil-sands projects is expected to more than double to 3.5 million barrels in 2025, from 1.4 million last year, according to the industry association.

Suncor rose C$2.07, or 8.1 percent, to C$27.50 on the Toronto Stock Exchange yesterday. The stock has lost 28 percent this year.