Click each heading for more detailed information.
In addition to greenhouse gases, oilsands operations release large volumes of pollutants into the air.
- These emissions include nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter.1
- These chemicals are known to affect human health and contribute to air pollution problems.2
Producing a barrel of bitumen creates more than twice as much nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide emissions as producing a barrel of conventional oil.3
- Annual emissions from oilsands operations in 2006:4
- 45,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides
- 115,000 tonnes of sulphur dioxide
- 74,000 tonnes of volatile organic compounds
Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are major contributors to acid rain formation.
- Northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which are downwind from the oilsands operations, are highly sensitive to acid rain.5
Air pollutant concentration guidelines in Alberta are less stringent than internationally accepted standards.
- The Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives (AAQO) are intended to provide protection of the environment and human health, while recognizing principles of sustainability that include environmental, social, and economic factors.6
- In comparison with guidelines established by the World Health Organization, AAQOs permit higher concentrations of particulate matter, 1.5 times the hourly-average concentrations of NO2, and over six times the daily-maximum concentrations for SO2.7,8
Even with the higher allowable concentrations in Alberta, the AAQOs were frequently exceeded by oilsands operators in recent years — with an increasing trend.
- According to a report, the air quality objectives were exceeded 1,556 times in 2009 in the Athabasca region, up from 47 times in 2004.9
updated April 2013
- 1. Royal Society of Canada, Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry.
- 2. Environment Canada, National Pollutant Release Inventory, 2007 Summary, section 220.127.116.11 “Criteria Air Contaminants” (accessed January 29, 2013).
- 3. J. Bergerson and D. Keith, “Life cycle assessment of oilsands technologies,” Proceedings of the Alberta Energy Futures Project Workshop, 2006.
- 4. Environment Canada (NPRI), "2006 Air Pollutant Emissions for Canada: Version 1" (accessed January 29, 2013).
- 5. Environment Canada, "Acid Rain FAQ" (accessed January 29, 2013) .
- 6. Government of Alberta, "Lower Athabasca Region: Air Quality Management Framework – For Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) Ambient Air Quality Objectives" (accessed January 29, 2013)
- 7. World Health Organization, WHO Air quality guidelines for particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide: Summary of risk assessment, (2005).
- 8. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Development, Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives and Guidelines Summary, (2013).
- 9. Environmental Defense, Dirty Oil, Dirty Air: Ottawa's Broken Pollution Promise (2010) (accessed January 10, 2011)