First ever report card on deep oilsands reveals significant room for improvementSome in-situ environmental impacts as serious as mining

March 17, 2010

Today, the Pembina Institute released Drilling Deeper: The In Situ Oilsands Report Card. It is the first comparative environmental assessment of in-situ oilsands projects. Scores among the nine Canadian operating projects surveyed ranged from 25 to 60 per cent, with five of nine projects scoring less than 50 per cent. The average score of 44 per cent demonstrates substantial room for improvement across the sector.

In situ extraction techniques are used where oilsands deposits lie too deep underground to surface mine. Given that about 80,000 square kilometres of Alberta, an area the size of Scotland, has been leased for in-situ development, the potential environmental impact of these projects could be significant.

The leading operation among the nine in the survey was the Suncor Firebag project which scored 60 per cent. The weakest operation was the Canadian Natural Resources Primrose/Wolf Lake project, which scored 25 per cent. A project using the best attributes of all projects could have scored 85 per cent in the survey, indicating that available environmental best practices are not being implemented by the sector as a whole.

“Such a wide variation in the environmental performance of in-situ projects suggests a failure to implement best practices available to them. It also shows that the bar is set so low that companies are creating needless environmental impacts,” says Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute. “They are certainly not being held to the standards of environmental performance that the public expects.”

Oilsands projects were ranked on 17 environmental indicators in five categories: environmental management, land impacts, air pollution, water use and management of greenhouse gases. Companies were invited to complete the survey questionnaire and had opportunities to review the data and to comment on their performance.

“Our analysis shows that in-situ oilsands development is actually more intensive on a per barrel basis in some environmental impact categories than oilsands mining,” says Marc Huot, Technical Analyst with the Pembina Institute. “This finding dispels the myth presented by some in industry and government that in-situ oilsands development is ‘low impact.’ Instead, it highlights the need for serious improvements.”

In the report card, the Pembina Institute also provides recommendations to improve the environmental performance of in-situ oilsands development, including greater transparency from industry on environmental data, a stronger commitment by industry to reduce environmental impacts and enhanced regulation from government to ensure best practices are implemented.


For more information, contact:

Simon Dyer
Oilsands Program Director
The Pembina Institute
Cell: 403-322-3937

Brief summary of results:

In-Situ Project Total Score
Suncor Firebag 60%
Cenovus Foster Creek 57%
Imperial Oil Cold Lake 55%
Suncor MacKay River 53%
Average Score 44%
Shell Peace River (demonstration) 38%
Cenovus Christina Lake (pilot) 37%
Husky Tucker (start-up) 35%
JACOS Hangingstone (demonstration) 34%
Canadian Natural Resources Limited Primrose/Wolf Lake 25%

Download the Full Report | Fact Sheet | Best Practices Checklist


Our perspectives to your inbox.

The Pembina Institute endeavors to maintain your privacy and protect the confidentiality of any personal information that you may give us. We do not sell, share, rent or otherwise disseminate personal information. Read our full privacy policy.