We will responsibly manage our operations and implement new processes and technologies to help maintain the region’s good air quality.

Our Performance

Air Graphic 1

SO2 emissions among the lowest

in our operating history.

3 air exceedences attributed to

Syncrude operations

Air Graphic 3
Air Graphic 2

A decrease in NOx emissions

by 20 per cent over five years.

Our Approach

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, our protocol is to inform local stakeholder communities of the situation and our efforts to resolve the issue.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) Emissions

Emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) in 2015 were amongst the lowest in our operating history and over 50 per cent less than levels in 2011. This is attributed to the commissioning of the $1.6 billion emissions reduction project in 2014. Flaring in 2015 was higher than in previous years due to an upgrader incident in late August and a power loss event in December. 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.

SO2 emissions originate mainly from our three fluid cokers. Other sources can include flaring and diverter stacks which are used only during coker unit or plant upsets.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) Emissions

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Emissions

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions originate from our upgrader processes and mining equipment. Emissions have decreased by approximately 20 per cent since 2011, due primarily to the installation of higher-tier engines in medium-duty support equipment, combined with reduced mobile equiptment usage in 2015.

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. For our Mildred Lake Extension (MLX) project, for example, our intent is to move to Tier 4 engines pending vendor availability. 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 (VOCs) and Fugitive Emissions

The majority of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) stem from naphtha losses to our Mildred Lake tailings settling basin and hydrocarbon vapours from storage tanks. To reduce VOCs, wastewater streams are directed through two Naphtha Recovery Units (NRUs) which employ a process developed by Syncrude in the mid-1980s. Over the last five years, naphtha recovery has averaged 85 per cent.

To reduce VOCs and fugitive emissions, we conduct annual inspections on all operating units in our extraction, upgrading and utilities operations to identify leaks and ensure timely repair. As well, in 2014, the Government of Alberta set out standard procedures for quantifying fugitive emissions from mine faces and tailings ponds, and encouraged these procedures to also be used in sampling for other air quality indicators, such as VOCs. As a result, the accuracy of emissions measurement has improved and studies are underway to identify potential reduction strategies.

In addition, two Syncrude Joint Venture Participants are involved in research through Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) to investigate the use of satellite technology to provide more accurate and frequent measurements of fugitive greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from tailings ponds and mine faces.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Note: Emission totals for 2013 and 2014 have been restated due to results from laboratory reanalysis and to expanded scope.

(Above) The Syncrude upgrader.

Regional Air Quality

Regional air quality is monitored independently by the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA). Headquartered in Fort McMurray, this multi-stakeholder association operates the most integrated and intensive focus on air and terrestrial monitoring in any one area in Canada, with 17 air monitoring stations and 23 passive monitoring stations throughout the region. It is comprised of 38 members representing Aboriginal communities, three levels of government, industry operators and environmental non-government organizations.

WBEA informs Syncrude immediately of any ambient air exceedences recorded at their stations in the region. This triggers a site-wide investigation into possible 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 Parks within seven days.

In 2015, WBEA registered 26 exceedences at its air monitoring stations, of which three were sourced to Syncrude operations.

Regional Air Quality

Low Risk Moderate Risk High Risk Very High Risk

Charts depict the percentage of 2015 hourly AQHI (Air Quality Health Index) values within each of the four risk categories – low, moderate, high and very high – calculated for four local WBEA stations. Visit the WBEA website for complete details on pollutants measured by AQHI.

Research and Air Monitoring Programs

In 2015, WBEA published a report, Assessing Forest Health in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region, which summarized 15 years of results from its forest health monitoring program. Studies confirmed that the highest concentrations of key air quality pollutants were reported nearer to oil sands operations and retreated to background levels approximately 40 to 50 kilometres away. Acidification was not detected in soils. Further results and discussion can be found at the WBEA website.

WBEA also released a video on the latest results from a five-year berry monitoring project carried out with Elders of the Fort McKay First Nation. Monitoring found that berry patches further from industrial development had lower concentrations of air borne contaminants and had higher concentrations of healthful constituents, such as phenotics, which have antioxidant properties. Pollutant concentrations were not high enough to cause direct injury to the plants. The study had been done on the request of the Elders and brought together elements of both traditional environmental knowledge and western science.


Local residents have expressed concerns regarding odours in the region. To help identify, measure and trace the source of odours, WBEA installed specialized analyzers at two existing monitoring stations – one in Fort McKay and one on the Syncrude site. Monitoring shows that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and reduced sulphur compounds (RSCs) can cause odours, either singly or in combination.

A community monitoring program enables local volunteers to track and report odours. The program ran in Fort McMurray from 2013 to 2015, with a second study currently underway in Anzac.

In the event of an operational upset or scheduled maintenance which could cause odours or affect air quality, we will notify impacted local communities. As well, local stakeholders can report odour concerns through the 24-hour Alberta Energy and Environmental Response 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.

There were three odour complaints in the region during 2015, versus our target of zero, that were attributed to Syncrude’s operation.

Performance Data

Air Emissions

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Ozone-depleting substances (kg CFC11 equivalent per year) 1,653 1,332 0 0 0
Sulphur dioxide (thousand tonnes per year) 64.73 72.97 63.13 25.43 27.95
Sulphur dioxide emission intensity (kg per m3 production) 3.84 4.34 4.02 1.67 1.91
Sulphur dioxide emission intensity (tonnes per thousand barrels production) 0.61 0.68 0.63 0.27 0.30
Nitrogen oxides (thousand tonnes per year) 30.65 27.67 26.11 26.73 24.39
Nitrogen oxides emission intensity (kg per m3 production) 1.82 1.66 1.67 1.78 1.67
Nitrogen oxides emission intensity (tonnes per thousand barrels production) 0.29 0.26 0.27 0.28 0.27
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1,2 (thousand tonnes per year) 12.41 12.46 31.85 33.15 22.94
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1,2 (kg per m3 production) 0.74 0.74 2.03 2.18 1.57
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1,2 (tonnes per thousand barrels production) 0.12 0.12 0.32 0.35 0.25
PM - Total particulate matter (tonnes per year) 15,796 13,929 14,052 18,067 17,805
PM10 - Particulate matter <= 10 microns (tonnes per year) 5,270 4,868 5,124 6,633 5,649
PM2.5 - Particulate matter <= 2.5 microns (tonnes per year) 971 972 1,096 1,391 924
Sour gas diverting (tonnes per day SO2) 0.90 0.70 0.70 1.11 0.05
Flaring (emergency and non-emergency) (million standard m3) 133.40 136.40 120.80 222.79 1,411.69
Flaring Intensity (emergency and non-emergency) (m3 per m3 production) 7.90 8.12 7.69 14.66 96.593

1 Syncrude reports annually to the National Pollutant Release Inventory. A comprehensive annual breakdown of substances reported, including VOCs, can be found at and typing “Syncrude” in the Facility Name search field.
2 Emission totals for 2013 and 2014 have been restated due to results from laboratory reanalysis and to expanded scope.
3 Increased flaring due to process incident. Click here [link to Resource Management section Focus on Process Safety paragraph] for more information.

Key Air Indicators

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 target
Diverter stack usage (hours per year) 118.09 90.79 97.70 268.70 20.79 <292
Sour gas flaring (tonnes per day SO2) 3.80 3.90 7.40 8.23 21.19 <5
Main stack sulphur dioxide (hours greater than 16.4 tonnes per hour) 0 0 1 0 0 0
Main stack sulphur dioxide (90-day rolling average >245 tonnes) 0 0.00 0 0 0 0
Main stack nitrogen oxides (# hours > 1.5 tonnes per hour) 0 0 0 0 0 0
Main stack opacity (# hours > 40%) 9 4 0 656 5 <5
Ambient air exceedences H2S hourly (#) 14 14 1 11 23 0
Ambient air exceedences H2S 24-hour period (#) 4 1 0 1 3 0
Ambient air exceedences SO2 hourly (#) 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ambient air exceedences SO2 24-hour period (#) 0 0 0 0 0 0
Odour incidents (# attributed to Syncrude) 2 3 6 3 3 0