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

Flaring 80% less

than previous three-year average.

26 odour incidents attributed to

Syncrude operations.

Air Graphic 3
Air Graphic 2

Participating in efforts

to improve air quality and reduce odours in the region.

Our Approach

We are committed to protecting air quality in the region by staying within the emissions limits of our operating license. 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) have decreased significantly over the last few years due to the successful operation of the $1.6 billion emissions reduction units. This trend continued in 2016, with the plant shutdown in May and June during the regional wildfire also a contributing factor. Increased reliability and stable operations throughout the rest of the year after restart contributed to lower emissions per barrel.

Flaring was significantly less in 2016 with an 80 per cent reduction from the previous three-year average.

Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) Emissions

Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Emissions

The installation of higher-tier engines in medium-duty support equipment has contributed to declining emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NOx) over the last number of years. Emissions in 2016 were again lower compared to previous years, partially due to the plant shutdown in May and June.

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 operational best practices as well as 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 (VOCs) and Fugitive Emissions

To reduce VOCs and fugitive emissions, we conduct annual inspections on our operating units 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.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Note: Emission totals increased after 2012 due to expanded scope and improvements to calculations.

(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 air and terrestrial monitoring program in any one area in Canada, with 21 air monitoring stations, 32 passive monitoring stations and five portable stations throughout the region.

The association is comprised of 40 members representing Aboriginal communities, government, industry operators and environmental non-government organizations. A senior Syncrude manager is the current president of its governance committee.

WBEA informs Syncrude immediately of any ambient air exceedences recorded at their stations located near our operations. 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 typically submitted to the Alberta Energy Regulator within seven days.

In 2016, WBEA registered 130 exceedences at its air monitoring stations, of which 12 indicated Syncrude operations may have been a source, based on meteorological conditions and plant performance. Approximately one-fifth of total exceedences were related to the May wildfire.

WBEA also coordinates regional terrestrial and forest health monitoring. This has included coordinating a berry monitoring project with Elders of the Fort McKay First Nation. Further information, overviews of projects and study results can be found on the WBEA website.

Regional Air Quality

Low Risk Moderate Risk High Risk Very High Risk

Charts depict the percentage of 2016 hourly AQHI (Air Quality Health Index) values within each of the four risk categories – low, moderate, high and very high – calculated for five local WBEA stations. Preliminary findings suggest smoke from the Fort McMurray wildfire and fires burning in the Northwest Territories were major contributing factors to the high and very high AQHI ratings in 2016. Visit the WBEA website for complete details on pollutants measured by AQHI.


In the event of an operational upset or scheduled maintenance that could cause odours or affect air quality, we will notify impacted 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. In 2016, there were 26 odour complaints in the region attributed to Syncrude’s operation.

In response to ongoing local stakeholder concerns, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and Alberta Department of Health worked with the local community of Fort McKay and industry to study odours in the region. A 2016 report outlined 17 recommendations, including:

  • improving consistency in industrial and ambient air quality monitoring,
  • assessing the long-term and cumulative health effects of emissions,
  • developing a better understanding of the link between industry emissions and air quality and odours in Fort McKay, and
  • improving response and communication protocols for odour complaints between the AER, Health Canada, Alberta Health Services, industry and the community of Fort McKay.

Syncrude is working with all parties to address the recommendations.

Performance Data

Air Emissions

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Ozone-depleting substances (kg CFC11 equivalent per year) 1,332 0 0 0 0
Sulphur dioxide (thousand tonnes per year) 72.97 63.13 25.43 27.95 22.46
Sulphur dioxide emission intensity (kg per m3 production) 4.34 4.02 1.67 1.91 1.41
Sulphur dioxide emission intensity (tonnes per thousand barrels production) 0.68 0.63 0.27 0.30 0.22
Nitrogen oxides (thousand tonnes per year) 27.67 26.11 26.73 24.39 20.81
Nitrogen oxides emission intensity (kg per m3 production) 1.66 1.67 1.78 1.67 1.31
Nitrogen oxides emission intensity (tonnes per thousand barrels production) 0.26 0.27 0.28 0.27 0.21
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1 (thousand tonnes per year) 12.46 31.85 33.15 22.94 12.77
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1 (kg per m3 production) 0.74 2.03 2.18 1.57 0.80
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)1 (tonnes per thousand barrels production) 0.12 0.32 0.35 0.25 0.13
PM - Total particulate matter (tonnes per year) 13,929 14,052 18,067 17,805 20,974
PM10 - Particulate matter <= 10 microns (tonnes per year) 4,868 5,124 6,633 5,649 6,507
PM2.5 - Particulate matter <= 2.5 microns (tonnes per year) 972 1,096 1,391 924 1,022
Sour gas diverting (tonnes per day SO2) 0.70 0.70 1.11 0.05 1.11
Flaring (emergency and non-emergency) (million standard m3) 136.40 120.80 222.79 1,411.69 248.17
Flaring Intensity (emergency and non-emergency) (m3 per m3 production) 8.12 7.69 14.66 96.593 15.59

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.

Key Air Indicators

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 target
Diverter stack usage (hours per year) 90.79 97.70 268.70 20.79 207.60 <292
Sour gas flaring (tonnes per day SO2) 3.90 7.40 8.23 21.19 3.76 <5
Main stack sulphur dioxide (hours greater than 16.4 tonnes per hour) 0 1 0 0 0 0
Main stack sulphur dioxide (90-day rolling average >245 tonnes) 0.00 0 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%) 4 0 656 5 8 <5
Ambient air exceedences H2S hourly (#) 14 1 11 23 11 0
Ambient air exceedences H2S 24-hour period (#) 1 0 1 3 1 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) 3 6 3 7 26 0