Oil Sands Fever to Strike Edmonton with 10-fold Increase in Upgrading

Mistakes from Fort McMurray must not be repeated

The Pembina Institute

For Immediate Release

Edmonton, June 16, 2008 —The first ever report to provide an in-depth look at the environmental impacts of upgrading oil sands bitumen in the Edmonton region was released by the Pembina Institute today. It provides an assessment of the cumulative environmental impacts of a 10-fold expansion of upgrading capacity proposed for Edmonton’s doorstep, and it recommends that the Government of Alberta only approve new projects once environmental and infrastructure plans are completed and implemented.

"Many people do not yet realize the scale and pace of development that will transform agricultural land and natural areas into an industrial complex about three-quarters the size of Edmonton," said Dr. Mary Griffiths, Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute and lead author of the report. "In the Edmonton area the Government of Alberta has the opportunity to avoid the environmental and social problems being experienced in Fort McMurray. Through proper and proactive planning those mistakes can be avoided, but to do this right requires a pause on new upgrader approvals."

The report, Upgrader Alley: Oil Sands Fever Strikes Edmonton, describes industry plans that will result in nine massive industrial plants just east of Edmonton. These upgraders will convert bitumen into synthetic crude oil for export to predominantly American markets. If all projects proceed as planned, the environmental impacts on the Edmonton region and Alberta will be significant. These industrial plants will

  • consume about 10 times as much fresh water as the entire City of Edmonton
  • require twice as much natural gas as is used to heat all the households in Edmonton
  • use more electricity than is produced by the entire EPCOR Genesee coal-fired power facility, equivalent to the electricity needed to power all the homes in Alberta
  • increase emissions of major air pollutants by 30-40%, even with government caps
  • produce about 45 megatonnes of greenhouse gases per year, as much as would be produced by 10 million vehicles

Work on the Capital Region Integrated Growth Management Plan, which includes "Upgrader Alley," is only just starting, and a plan will not be in place for over a year. Alberta Environment has initiated the Cumulative Effects Management Framework to limit impacts on land, air and water, but it intends to continue approving new upgrader projects prior to environmental limits being fully implemented. In addition, projects could be approved without any requirement to deploy carbon capture and storage technology, despite the Government of Alberta's proposed reliance on this technology in its most recent climate change strategy, released earlier this year.

"With careful planning, it may be possible to reduce the impact on the North Saskatchewan River and emissions to the air, but environmental limits and infrastructure need to be in place before the projects are built," says Simon Dyer, Oil Sands Program Director with the Pembina Institute. "How much new development can the region and the North Saskatchewan River sustain? These critical questions need to be answered before the government grants approvals for new upgrader projects. We need to take the time to do it right."

You can download the full the report, Upgrader Alley: Oil Sands Fever Strikes Edmonton, and a fact sheet at www.oilsandswatch.org


For more information, contact:

Mary Griffiths, Senior Policy Analyst and Lead Author
Tel: 780-433-6675 Cell: 780-915-9771

Simon Dyer, Oil Sands Program Director
Tel: 403-322-3937 Cell: 403-322-3937


Local municipalities have already rezoned agricultural land and natural areas to create a 530-square-kilometre region called Alberta's Industrial Heartland, which is where Upgrader Alley will be located. The Industrial Heartland is three-quarters the size of the City of Edmonton.

Nine bitumen upgraders are expected to be operating in Upgrader Alley between 2015 and 2020. When all stages are complete they will have the capacity to upgrader approximately two million barrels of bitumen a day. An upgrader looks similar to an oil refinery, like those sited along the North Saskatchewan River northeast of Edmonton. They are huge complexes, with each site being three or four times the size of the main University of Alberta campus, and requiring railway, roads, pipelines and transmission lines. Upgrader development will transform the Edmonton area.

In operation and undergoing expansion

  • Athabasca Oil Sands/Shell Canada: Scotford #1
  • Approved and under construction
  • BA Energy/Value Creation: Heartland
  • North West Upgrading Inc.: North West

Applications submitted

  • North American Oilsands Corporation/StatoilHydro: Strathcona
  • Petro-Canada/Fort Hills Energy Corporation: Sturgeon
  • Shell Canada: Scotford #2
  • Synenco Energy Inc. (on hold): Northern Lights
  • Total E & P Canada: Total

Land holdings

  • Suncor