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Pathways Alliance says $16.5B carbon capture plan on track

Organization progressing on first steps of proposed carbon capture project

Pathways AllianceA Canadian oil sands industry group proposing a $16.5-billion carbon capture project critical to its members’ climate targets said the first steps to building its infrastructure are under way.

The Pathways Alliance announced in a release it completed engineering and environmental field work ahead of regulatory applications for a proposed carbon capture and sequestration network in Alberta that would be one of the world’s largest upon completion.

Pathways estimates the project could reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from oil sands operations by approximately 10 to 12 million tonnes annually by 2030 and as much as 40 million tonnes per year by 2050.

The organization is working to reduce Scope 1 and 2 CO2 emissions from oil sands operations by 22 million tonnes per year by 2030, and reach net-zero operational emissions by 2050. Canada’s oil sands industry is a key polluter, responsible for approximately 11 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're taking all the steps needed to ensure this project is ready to go once we have the critical regulatory policies and co-investment commitments from governments that are necessary for our sector to remain cost competitive with other oil-producing regions around the world while we reduce emissions," Pathways president Kendall Dilling said in a release.

Current and future steps for Pathways

Pathways has set out to connect a carbon storage hub to a 400-kilometre CO2 transportation line that would move the greenhouse gas from oil sands facilities in the Fort McMurray, Christina Lake and Cold Lake regions of Alberta. CO2 would then be liquified and stored inside a saline aquifer underground for long-term storage.

The organization said it is progressing on feasibility studies for early carbon capture facilities; and engineering and design work and regulatory applications for the CO2 transportation line. It is also working on a carbon sequestration agreement from the Alberta government.

The results of environmental field work at potential project areas will be used to minimize impacts on the local environment. Indigenous groups and local community members are being consulted and engaged with on the carbon capture project.

The first phase of the Pathways project will require $24 billion in investment by 2030, the group said, with an additional $7.6 billion for other emissions reduction technology and projects.

Those include:

  • R&D into emissions abatement technologies and carbon capture;
  • steam reduction technologies;
  • a fuel switching pilot to convert natural gas into hydrogen and solid carbon for easier storage; and
  • the use of small modular reactors on oil sands production sites.

Possible incentives; criticism of carbon capture

The carbon capture project can provide hundreds of thousands of jobs across Canada and tens of billions of dollars in revenue for governments, Dilling said.

The Canadian government has named carbon capture and carbon removal as pillars of its 2050 net-zero climate strategy. To support this plan, it may offer up to $20 billion over five years to subsidize carbon capture projects.

But in a recent report, the International Energy Agency cautioned against carbon capture as a linchpin of oil and gas firms’ transitions, saying the technology “cannot be used to maintain the status quo” and would require “an entirely inconceivable” amount of electricity to capture the carbon.

Critics have also said carbon capture does not reduce the use of fossil fuels, thus avoiding a pivotal contributor of global warming.

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