Report 183

Canada's Bitumen Industry Under CO2 Constraints

by Chan, G., J.M. Reilly, S. Paltsev, and Y.-H. Chen (10-Jan)
Joint Program Report Series, 27 pages, 2010


We investigate the effects of implementing CO2 emissions reduction policies on Canada’s oil sands industry, the largest of its kind in the world. The production of petroleum products from oils sands involves extraction of bitumen from the oil sands, upgrading it to a synthetic crude oil by adding lighter hydrocarbons, and then use of more conventional petroleum refining processes to create products such as gasoline and diesel. The relatively heavy crude generally requires the use of cracking and other advanced refinery operations to generate a product slate with substantial fractions of the higher value petroleum products such as diesel and gasoline. Each part of the process involves significant amounts of energy, and that contributes to a high level of CO2 emissions. We apply the MIT Emissions Prediction and Policy Analysis (EPPA) model, a computable general equilibrium model of the world economy, augmented to include detail on the oil sands production processes, including the possibility of carbon capture and storage (CCS). We find: (1) without climate policy annual Canadian bitumen production increases over 6-fold from 2005 to 2050; (2) with CO2 emissions caps implemented in developed countries, Canadian bitumen production drops by nearly 65% from the reference 6-fold increase and bitumen upgrading capacity moves to the developing countries; (3) with CO2 emissions caps implemented worldwide, the Canadian bitumen production becomes essentially non-viable even with CCS technology, at least through our 2050 horizon. The main reason for the demise of the oil sands industry with global CO2 policy is that the demand for oil worldwide drops substantially. CCS takes care of emissions from the oil sands production, upgrading, and refining processes, at a cost, but there is so little demand for petroleum products which still emit CO2 when used that it can be met with conventional oil resources that entail less CO2 emissions in the production process.

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