An alliance of Canada’s dominant oil sands producers has struck a deal to begin evaluating one of the world’s biggest proposed carbon capture and storage projects in Alberta, targeting initial capacity of 22 million tonnes per annum.

Launched in 2021, the Pathways Alliance brings together Canadian Natural, Cenovus Energy, ConocoPhillips, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy, which together operate some 95% of Canada’s oil sands production.

This CCS project proposed for Alberta’s Cold Lake region is critical to meet the alliance’s objective of cutting carbon dioxide emissions from its member companies’ oil sands operations by 22 million tpa by 2030 and enabling the goal of net zero by 2050, equivalent to about 30 million tpa.

If approved, the storage complex could begin injecting CO2 into a saline aquifer from a number of oil sands facilities by late 2026.

The Pathways Alliance has signed a carbon sequestration evaluation agreement with the province of Alberta, a move that enables an immediate start to be made on a detailed geological evaluation of the proposed CCS complex, with field work set to start this northern hemisphere winter.

Data from formation tests — combined with existing information collected by the alliance — will help with development plans to support a final application for a storage agreement and further regulatory approvals.

CCS hub

The proposed storage hub would be connected to a 400-kilometre pipeline that would initially gather captured CO2 from about 14 oil sands facilities in Alberta’s Fort McMurray, Christina Lake and Cold Lake regions.

The ultimate aim is to expand the transportation network to include more than 20 oil sands facilities, and to accommodate other industries in the region interested in CCS.

Engagement is ongoing with local stakeholders and First Nation and Metis communities along the proposed CO2 transportation line and storage network.

“This agreement marks another significant milestone on the road to finalising plans for our proposed CCS project in north eastern Alberta,” Pathways Alliance president Kendall Dilling said.

“CCS has been globally recognised as one of the most effective means of reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions and Alberta’s geology makes this one of the most ideally suited places in the world to safely inject and permanently store CO2,” he said.

The alliance claims that, by 2030, its members have the potential to generate about 35,000 jobs in construction and clean technology, protect 25,000 to 35,000 existing oil sands jobs, and add another 1000 permanent jobs to support its proposed low-emissions facilities.

“A healthy, sustainable oil sands industry, that can make meaningful emissions reductions, could contribute an estimated C$3 trillion (US$2.21 trillion) to the Canadian economy over the next 30 years,” the industry group claims.

The Pathways Alliance scheme is one of 19 proposed CCS projects selected by Alberta’s government in a second competitive bid round, all of which are in their early assessment stages.

These proposals are eyeing storage zones across the province including locations near Calgary, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Edmonton, Whitecourt, Grande Prairie, Swan Hills, Drumheller, Pincher Creek and Edson.

Further along the development path are six proposed projects that Alberta chose in its first CCS bid round, all eyeing storage facilities in the Edmonton area.

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