Canada's largest oil sands producers on Tuesday pledged to make their crude less polluting than conventional oil by cutting water use and lowering energy consumption, as environmental protesters move to block new pipelines to ship the product abroad.
Speaking at a meeting held by the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an industry group that shares environmental technology among its 13 members, Suncor Energy Inc Chief Executive Steve Williams said his company alone has spent nearly C$2 billion ($1.8 billion) on technologies to reduce toxic tailings.
The COSIA members said they expect to cut water use in half, to 0.2 barrels of water per barrel of crude produced, by 2022. That comes as the companies, which produce tar-like bitumen from the oil sands, expect to raise output to 3.2 million bpd by 2020 from about 2 million barrels per day.
The growth comes even as protesters seek to block the pipelines projects. Keystone XL has waited six years for U.S. approval, and Canadian police have in the past week arrested roughly 80 people in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby as environmental activists and local residents protest against Kinder Morgan Energy Partners' planned expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline.
Williams said that the industry could do little to win over many of its opponents, whom he characterized as a small segment of the population concerned primarily with climate change.
"There's nothing we can actually do to gain their support. The issue is not per se the pipeline in Burnaby and not per se the oil sands, it's about (other) issues," Williams said. "The whole of the oil sands (greenhouse gas) impact is one-tenth of 1 percent. We could shut the whole industry down tomorrow and it will not be impactful on global greenhouse-gas emissions."