One of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects is in development in Alberta, Canada, where the six largest producers in the Canadian oil sands have formed the Pathways Alliance to work together to achieve their goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. CCS is the foundational project of Pathways Alliance, which is planning to invest more than $24 billion in CCS projects and other emissions reduction technologies by the end of the decade. The International CCS Knowledge Centre is supporting early-stage engineering work for several member companies’ CCS facilities.

We asked Pathways Alliance President Kendall Dilling, about the importance of CCS to the long-term sustainability of Canada’s energy industry, and the importance of collaboration in achieving Canada’s ambitious climate goals.


Can you outline the scope of CCS envisioned by the Pathways Alliance, and how it fits with Canada’s emission reduction plans?

Climate change is a critical challenge and as one of our country’s largest CO2 emitters, our industry has an important role to play in helping meet the national commitment of net-zero emissions by 2050. Our proposed foundational project is a CCS network and CO2 pipeline which will have the capacity to gather captured CO2 from more than 20 oil sands facilities and transport it to a hub in the Cold Lake area of Alberta for safe underground storage. The line would also be available to other industries in the region interested in capturing and storing CO2. Several hundred engineers and technical experts from Pathways Alliance’s six member companies — Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, ConocoPhillips Canada, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy — are advancing engineering and environmental work for the project application, refining carbon capture technology, and engaging Indigenous and local communities along the proposed pipeline route. 

Our CCS project alone could reduce net carbon dioxide emissions by about 10 to 12 million tonnes per year by 2030 from the first 14 facilities, about half of our goal of 22 million tonnes annually. The Pathways Alliance is a model for all sectors within Canada and globally of how peer companies can set aside their competitiveness to work together for a common goal – addressing climate change. 


In addition to decarbonizing oil sands production, what are the other benefits of this large-scale project?

A healthy, sustainable oil sands industry that is able to make meaningful emissions reductions will contribute an estimated $3 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 30 years. By the end of the decade, the Alliance has the potential to generate approximately 35,000 jobs in construction and clean tech, protect 25,000 to 35,000 existing jobs, and add another 1,000 permanent jobs to support our low-emissions facilities compared to a do-nothing scenario.

Achieving Pathways’ ambitious goals will not only help address Canada’s climate change challenge but also ensure the sector can continue to significantly contribute to the Canadian economy and energy security while continuing to support hundreds of thousands of jobs from coast to coast. Our vision is to produce the cleanest barrels of oil in the world and for Canada to become the global supplier of choice for responsibly produced oil to meet the forecasted ongoing demand for oil for decades to come. 


What has been achieved on the CCS projects so far, and what do you anticipate will be accomplished through 2023?

We have made significant progress on the early-stage work necessary to build one of the world’s largest carbon capture and storage networks – an essential part of our path to net zero. The first stage of the Pathways Alliance plan includes approximately $16.5 billion of investment by 2030 on the Alliance’s foundational CCS project and $7.6 billion on other emissions reductions projects, for a total of around $24.1 billion. This follows billions already invested by member companies to reduce overall emissions per barrel by 22 per cent in the last decade alone. 

As far as the project itself, early engagement with more than 20 Indigenous communities along the proposed CO2 transportation and storage network corridor has commenced. We are pleased to have been selected by the Government of Alberta to continue evaluation work on the Alliance’s carbon storage hub in northeastern Alberta. The proposed hub could eventually see more than 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 safely stored deep underground in a saline aquifer – a critical lever in enabling the Alliance’s goal of net zero by 2050. 

We are conducting engineering studies for the first phase of CO2 capture facilities. In fact, nine carbon capture feasibility studies involving member companies have been completed on oil sands sites and shared amongst Pathways members, including pre-engineering work on the 400-kilometre pipeline that will carry captured CO2 to the storage site with more detailed engineering work progressing. Environmental field programs are also underway to support regulatory application submissions for the proposed CO2 transportation line and storage network. The Alliance is planning to submit those applications in late Q4 of 2023.

As far as what else 2023 holds, we expect to hear more this spring from both the federal and Alberta governments on the regulatory and co-funding agreements necessary to push this and other CCS projects planned for Alberta forward. 


Why is collaboration between companies, governments, academia and other stakeholders needed to bring the Pathways Alliance CCS projects to life?

For Canada to be a world leader in reducing emissions through carbon capture, we need to ensure our industry remains competitive with other energy producing jurisdictions around the world. Building large scale CCS infrastructure requires long-term capital investment and to meet 2030 targets we need to move quickly. Leading-edge technology is one of the most important tools we possess and oil sands companies are advancing new and existing technologies with a range of leading national and international research and development organizations. The projects showing early success globally are using a collaborative model where governments are co-investing alongside industry. 


How important is knowledge sharing and learning from the first generation of CCS projects to the success of the Pathways Alliance?

The expertise gained through long-standing CCS projects in the oil and gas and other industrial sectors provides a competitive advantage for Canada to be a world leader in the next generation of CCS development. The geology in Alberta is ideally suited for storing CO2 and the vast knowledge gained through work in the early part of this decade is critical to getting projects built on the massive scale and short timeline required. Groups like the International CCS Knowledge Centre play a very important role by not only capturing the expertise and lessons we have gained through the world’s first large-scale CCS projects, they help companies apply that knowledge in a way that reduces risk, lowers costs and will help improve performance of the major CCS projects that are being planned – for everyone’s benefit. As an independent and trusted advisor, the Knowledge Centre is uniquely suited to help co-ordinate that collaboration and to be the curator of the invaluable knowledge and experience gained as we all move forward in bringing these projects to life. 


What are the biggest challenges ahead for the Pathways Alliance?

As we look to help Canada meet its climate commitments while becoming the preferred global supplier of responsibly produced oil, we must acknowledge the intense competition for global investment capital for CCS projects with countries such as Norway, the Netherlands and the United States, who all invest generously with industry in CCS technology.

The Canadian government’s announcement of an investment tax credit is a positive step, and is essential to the supportive and nimble fiscal and policy framework required for our industry to proceed with our foundational CCS projects and technologies. While this announcement is not enough to proceed to a final investment decision, we were encouraged by the urgency expressed in the federal government’s Fall Economic Statement to advance major energy infrastructure and stay globally competitive on clean technology investment, as well as their recognition of the importance of the oil sands to our country’s energy security. We appreciate the recognition that to kick start major projects and technologies, Canada must be on an even playing field with incentives in the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act and with other countries it is competing with for investment. We continue to work collaboratively with governments to help support the certainty required to proceed.

In June of last year, CEOs from all six Pathways companies met directly with First Nations and Métis leaders in Northeastern Alberta to explore ways to work collaboratively on our proposed CCS project. Pathways Alliance can’t stress strongly enough how vital a trusting relationship is with Indigenous communities as we move forward together on the path to net zero, and we recognize the need to continue to build on a decades-long track record of meaningful engagement on all aspects of environmental performance. Indeed, one of the most important aspects of this project will be to gain acceptance from communities in the sequestration zone and especially with Indigenous communities. Those early meetings were just the start of discussions we will continue to have every step of way as we look to move forward. Care for environment in the communities we operate in is a core value for the Pathways Alliance and we will continue to seek input from Indigenous leaders and communities, who have a special, living relationship with the land, air and water.