Air Quality

Chapter 3.2

Air Quality

    Performance Highlights:

    • New $1.6 billion emissions reduction project significantly reduces SO2 emissions; further reduction expected in 2014
    • NOx emissions from mobile equipment reduced 13 per cent vs. 2012
    • One ambient air exceedence attributed to Syncrude, out of 16 total in region

    Our Approach

    Syncrude is committed to managing air emissions to protect human and ecological health in the region. The Wood Buffalo region enjoys good air quality, and we will responsibly manage our operations and implement new processes and technologies to help maintain this in the years ahead.

    Air quality is independently monitored by the multi-stakeholder Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA). If an ambient air exceedence occurs, all operators in the region are notified. At Syncrude, we conduct a site-wide investigation into any possible sources from our operation. If one is identified, procedures are implemented to minimize air quality impacts.

    We are committed to staying within the emissions limits of our operating license and will reduce production rates to do so. If we are aware of a plant upset that could cause odours or temporarily elevate emissions from our operation, we will always inform local stakeholder communities of the situation and our efforts to resolve the issue.

    Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) Emissions

    Emissions from Syncrude of sulphur dioxide (SO2) continued to decrease and in 2013 were at the second-lowest level in our operating history. This is attributed to the commissioning of our new $1.6 billion emissions reduction project in December. When combined with previously deployed emissions management technology, this project is expected to reduce our SO2 emissions by 60 per cent from 2005 levels. Particulate emissions are also anticipated to decline by around 50 per cent. Our focus for 2014 is to ensure the reliable operation of this project and its related units.

    SO2 emissions originate mainly from two fluid cokers built in the 1970s as part of our original operations. Emissions from a third coker that commenced operation in 2006 are routed through a flue-gas desulphurization unit (FGD). Other sources of SO2 include flaring and diverter stacks which are used only during coker unit or plant upsets. Flaring in 2013 increased from the previous year due to upsets within the upgrader and preparations for the start-up of the emissions reduction project.

    When it is necessary to flare or divert gas, we adhere to regulatory requirements and  take every possible action to reduce the duration of each incident. This includes decreasing production rates if required.

    Sulphur Dioxide (SO²) Emissions

    Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Emissions

    Sources of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions at Syncrude are the main and secondary stacks in our upgrader and mining equipment. Due primarily to the installation of higher-tier engines into medium-duty support equipment over the last few years, emissions from our mine mobile equipment decreased by approximately 13 per cent in 2013 vs. 2012.

    Our primary goals with respect to minimizing NOx emissions are to move the maximum volume of material while consuming the least amount of fuel, and to have engines that continue to reduce emissions per litre of fuel consumed. This is achieved through capital turnover and the purchase of new haul trucks when equipment reaches end-of-life. We also focus on fuel quality, engine selection, operating and maintenance practices, mine plan efficiency and knowledge sharing activities.

    Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Emissions

    Volatile Organic Compounds

    Other Air Emissions

    Emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) decreased by 13 per cent from 2012 – the lowest in almost a decade. Comprehensive fugitive emission studies are required by regulation once every five years to provide assurance that we are capturing all possible sources. The last study was completed in 2013 and results will be incorporated into next year’s reporting.

    As well, Alberta Environment is in the process of finalizing a fugitive emissions guidance document for the oil sands industry. In future years, this will require extensive annual measurements in the mines and tailings ponds.

    Sources of VOCs at Syncrude include naphtha losses to our Mildred Lake tailings settling basin and hydrocarbon vapours from storage tanks.

    To reduce naphtha losses, wastewater streams are directed through two Naphtha Recovery Units (NRUs), a technology developed by Syncrude in the mid-1980s. We remain within government regulations for naphtha losses and continue to examine how we can improve recovery in the future. Naphtha recovery over the reporting period was approximately 84 per cent.

    A leak detection and repair program has been in place at Syncrude since 1992. As required by our operating approval, this program monitors for vapour leaks according to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Code of Practice. The system enables us to minimize VOC releases.

    Regional Air Quality

    Significant efforts are made to reduce ambient air exceedences through reliable and stable operations, and fewer plant upsets. In 2013, there were 16 exceedences reported by air monitoring stations operated by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association. Of these, one was attributed to Syncrude.

    Regional Air Quality

    WBEA communication protocols inform Syncrude immediately of any ambient air exceedences. This triggers a site-wide investigation into possible Syncrude sources that may be contributing to elevated readings. If one is identified, procedures are implemented to minimize air quality impacts, which can include reducing production rates. A follow-up report is submitted to Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development within seven days.

    To help prevent the release of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) to the atmosphere, we conduct ongoing maintenance to heating and ventilation systems, air conditioners and cooler units. In 2012, we replaced all HVAC units with ones that operate on non-ozone depleting refrigerant. As a result, in 2013, we had no exceedences above regulatory limits, as compared to 27 in the previous year.

    Regional Air Quality Monitoring

    The Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) independently monitors air quality and terrestrial environmental effects in the region. WBEA is headquartered in Fort McMurray and comprises environmental non-government organizations, First Nations, Métis Locals, governments, health agencies and industry. Syncrude is a founding member and an employee currently serves as Board Chair. The association operates 17 continuous monitoring stations (including two new stations added in 2013), and 20 passive stations, which measure between three and 10 air quality parameters. WBEA is also considering direction from the Alberta government to establish an aquatic monitoring program.

    In 2013, WBEA helped advise and plan work associated with the Joint Canada/Alberta Implementation Plan for Oil Sands Monitoring (JOSM). Nine new members joined the association, including Fort McMurray Métis 1935, Fort McMurray #468 First Nation, Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation, Christina River Dene Nation Council and Parks Canada.

    WBEA has also increased to 25 the number of permanent jack pine forest monitoring plots throughout the region and into Saskatchewan. Twenty-two of these plots measure monthly concentrations of five air pollutants. Six of the plots continuously measure meteorology and other variables affecting forest growth. In addition, 25 separate edge plots have been established to detect an early warning of change in key indicators, well before an impact can be measured.

    Environmental monitoring includes regional berry health.

    The Fort McKay Berry Focus Group is a partnership between community members of Fort McKay and WBEA’s Terrestrial Environmental Effects Monitoring (TEEM) program. The program engages community members and Elders in an ongoing berry monitoring study, in which they share their observations and pass on their traditional knowledge of regional berry health to scientists. In 2013, several planning workshops and berry patch visits were held. Four berry patches were instrumented with passive air monitors and berries were sampled in August for analysis of contaminants and nutritional value. Results will be shared in 2014.

    In 2013, WBEA Executive Director, Dr. Kevin Percy, was invited by the Canadian Council of Academies (CCA) to sit on an expert panel that will assess new and emerging technologies to reduce the environmental impact of oil sands development. The panel is co-chaired by Scott Vaughan, President and CEO of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and former Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, and Eric Newell, former CEO of Syncrude and Chancellor Emeritus and Special Advisor to the Provost of the University of Alberta.

    Odours

    Local stakeholders report odour concerns to the 24-hour Alberta Environment hotline at 1.800.222.6514. Government authorities then notify local industrial operators of the complaint and require them to assess their operations for possible sources of odours and take remediating action. The regulator informed Syncrude of six odour complaints during 2013, which were attributable to our operation. The odour sources were investigated and promptly resolved.

    In the event of an operational upset or scheduled maintenance which could cause odours or affect air quality, we update the public through the Wood Buffalo Air Information Line at 1.866.685.3699.

    Ongoing efforts by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association aim to improve the identification and measurement of odours in the region. This includes the installation of three specialized instruments at the air monitoring station in the community of Fort McKay. Four portable analyzers are available for specialized odour measurement and short-to-medium term monitoring at industry sites or in communities. In 2013, a community odour monitoring program began, through which trained volunteers in Fort McMurray assist in odour recognition and identification. The program will run for one year.

    Data and samples collected during a forest health study, conducted by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, are being analyzed at labs in Canada, the United States and Finland. Photo: Wood Buffalo Environmental Association

    Ongoing efforts by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association aim to improve the identification and measurement of odours in the region. This includes the installation of three specialized instruments at the air monitoring station in the community of Fort McKay. Four portable analyzers are available for specialized odour measurement and short-to-medium term monitoring at industry sites or in communities. In 2013, a community odour monitoring program began through which trained volunteers in Fort McMurray will assist in odour recognition and identification. The program will run for one year.

    Air Emissions

     
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    Ozone-depleting substances 1
    (kg of CFC11 equivalent/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    1,066 1,316 1,653 1,332 0
    Sulphur dioxide
    (thousand tonnes/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    81.47 72.77 64.73 72.97 63.13
    Sulphur dioxide emission intensity
    (kg/m3 production)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    4.95 4.22 3.84 4.34 4.02
    Sulphur dioxide emission intensity
    (tonnes/thousand barrels production)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    0.79 0.67 0.61 0.69 0.64
    Nitrogen oxides
    (thousand tonnes/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    28.41 30.85 30.65 27.67 26.11
    Nitrogen oxides emission intensity
    (kg/m3 production)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    1.72 1.79 1.82 1.66 1.67
    Nitrogen oxides emission intensity
    (tonnes/thousand barrels production)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    0.27 0.28 0.29 0.26 0.26
    Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1
    (thousand tonnes/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    13.59 13.77 12.41 12.46 10.86
    VOC emission intensity1
    (kg/m3 production)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    0.82 0.80 0.74 0.74 0.69
    VOC emission intensity1
    (tonnes/thousand barrels production)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    0.13 0.13 0.12 0.12 0.11
    PM - Total particulate matter
    (tonnes/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    11,699 16,408 15,796 13,929 14,052
    PM10 - Particulate matter <= 10 microns
    (tonnes/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    4,283 5,829 5,270 4,868 5,124
    PM2.5 - Particulate matter <= 2.5 microns
    (tonnes/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    1,020 1,191 971 972 1,196
    Sour gas diverting
    (tonnes/day SO2)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    2.0 0.4 0.9 0.7 0.7
    Flaring (emergency and non-emergency
    (million standard m3)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    178.4 148.2 133.4 136.4 177.3
    Flaring Intensity (emergency and non-emergency
    (m3/m3 production)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
    10.83 8.60 7.92 8.10 11.29

    1 Syncrude reports annually to the National Pollutant Release Inventory. A comprehensive annual breakdown of substances reported, including VOCs, can be found at http://www.ec.gc.ca/inrp-npri/ and typing "Syncrude" in the Facility Name search field.

    Key Air Indicators

     
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    Diverter stack usage
    (hours/year)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    265.82 56.28 118.09 90.79 97.73 < 292
    Sour gas flaring
    (tonnes/day SO2)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    3.2 2.3 3.8 3.9 7.4 < 5
    Main stack sulphur dioxide
    (hours greater than 16.4 tonnes per hour)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    2 2 0 0 1 0
    Main stack sulphur dioxide
    (90-day rolling average >245 tonnes)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    0 0 0 0 0 0
    Main stack nitrogen oxides
    (# of hours > 1.5 tonnes per hour)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    0 0 0 0 0 0
    Main stack opacity
    (# hours > 40)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    22 5 9 4 21 < 5
    Ambient air exceedences H 2 S hourly
    (#)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    5 0 13 14 1 0
    Ambient air exceedences H 2 S 24-hour period
    (#)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    1 0 4 2 0 0
    Ambient air exceedences SO 2 hourly
    (#)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    0 0 0 0 0 0
    Ambient air exceedences SO 2 24-hour period
    (#)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    0 0 0 0 0 0
    Odour incidents
    (# attributed to Syncrude)
    2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
    1 0 2 3 6 0

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