By: Cos Lindstrom Issue: Energy & The Environment Section: Jewel Of Collaboration
Environmental Excellence at Suncor Energy
Trust and confidence are built over time and often does not happen overnight. Stakeholders want more than just results. They are often looking for long-term solutions in two important areas - social performance and environmental performance. The “triple bottom line vision” encompasses sustainable development that has three main goals: economic prosperity, promoting social well being, and preserving a healthy environment.
At Suncor Energy, this isn’t an option - it’s a duty. Suncor realizes that to keep the balance between generating profits, supply and demand, and sustaining the environment it must reduce greenhouse gases, sulphur dioxide and air emissions that are produced because of its operations.
“Turning vision into action starts with employees,” says the company. In fact, in 2006 Suncor launched the Environmental Excellence Strategy to change the way employees thought about environmental stewardship. A culture was adopted where waste was not tolerated and employees were encouraged to solve environmental challenges. Employees were charged with ways to go beyond just meeting expectations, but to identify opportunities for superior performance in regards to the environment in four key areas: waste, energy efficiency, water, and land.
Because of this culture shift, a two-day summit was held where over 130 Suncor employees brainstormed ways to address environmental obstacles and the opportunities that would and could arise. a two-day summit was held where over 130 Suncor employees brainstormed ways to address environmental obstacles and the opportunities that would and could arise.
According to Gord Lambert, Vice President, Sustainable Environment, “Their capacity to innovate and solve problems is remarkable. Now, we’re giving them more resources to get the job done.”
A Look At What Suncor Does
In 1964, known as the Oil Sands Company, the company began development of one of the world’s largest petroleum basins – the Athabasca oil sands, and the largest single private investment in Canada at that time. Then, in 1979 Suncor was created with the merger of the Canadian operations of Sun Company and the Great Canadian Oil Sands. The oil sands are a surface mine facility which extract oil from the ground. Steam injection and other surface mining technologies upgrade the oil to refinery ready crude oil which is then shipped to various locations. The oil sands business is also supported by natural gas production facilities located in western Canada, refining, marketing & retail locations in Onatrio, Canada and Commerce City, Colorado.
Today, Suncor has over 5,500 employees who are in the business of natural gas, renewable energy, and energy marketing under the Sunoco and Phillips 66 brands. The fuels that are produced are then sold as energy that fuel our cars, power our schools, hospitals and businesses. This high-quality, low sulphur diesel fuel meets or exceeds industry specifications.
Carbon Neutral by 2020?
Suncor hopes to be a carbon neutral company by 2020, but the price tag will be hefty and it will require an amazing amount of collaboration and planning with partners and government entities. Suncor believes that technology holds the key to large-scale greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions, but that technology doesn’t happen overnight and takes money to deploy.
Suncor admits that they cannot commit to being a carbon neutral industry by 2020, but will pursue opportunities that potentially move them in that direction. Until then, Suncor has a seven point plan to cope with environmental change. This plan addresses ways to manage GHG emissions, further develop renewable sources of energy, invest in environmental and economic research, domestic and international offsets, policy collaboration, education programs, and measurements for progress.
Carbon capture and storage solutions are high on Suncor’s agenda. Carbon capture, as the name implies, involves capturing CO2 and transporting it through a pipeline to gas reservoirs for long term storage. Sometimes that stored CO2 can be used to recover additional oil and is alternatively known as enhanced oil recovery.
GHG emissions are high on their list of concerns by Suncor’s key stakeholder groups. Ten years ago, Suncor launched a plan that decreased the overall carbon emitted from its facilities. Since 1990, GHG emissions have reduced at the oil sands plant by 44 percent. As Suncor expands production capacity, there is no way to avoid emissions - so they are investing in technologies that could lead to overall reductions, while looking at opportunities to utilize wind power and biofuel technologies. To further reduce their carbon footprint, Suncor is conserving energy across operations, funding R&D for carbon capture technologies, developing other environmentally friendly technologies, investing in renewables, and measuring/reporting on their progress.
Suncor’s Climate Change Plan – Wind, Water, Land
Wind power is the fastest growing source of electricity generation in the world and is one of the most economical forms of power. It is emissions free and renewable. The investment in wind power is a key component of the company’s climate change plan. A portion of the revenues from the oil sands development is invested in wind power. In fact, Suncor has been a pioneer in Canada with regard to wind power generation. Four wind farms are currently functional and others are in the planning stages. The current wind farms can produce 147 megawatts of electricity and reduce CO2 emissions by 284,000 tons annually.
Suncor understands that water is a limited resource that should be managed wisely. Water is essential to the company’s production, and very important to the oil sands business. In order to achieve sustainable development they recognize the need for balance between the amount of water used by the company and maintaining a clean and safe water supply for years to come. When Suncor started its business back in the 1960s, water was abundant, yet today it is limited.
Because of the need to conserve water resources, the company is working to reduce the consumption of water in all aspects of the business. As part of the Environmental Excellence strategy, a water conservation ethic is being reinforced for all operations and employees. Exploring new technologies and pursuing integrated watershed management are also part of the plan. At the oil sands site, water usage has already been reduced by 40 percent because of new technologies. These resource management technologies, will allow the company to expand to about 500,000 barrels per day by 2012 without any increase in the water usage. Today they continue to invest in additional technologies to continue the reduction of operational water use.
Suncor believes educating others is another way to support water conservation. In June 2007, the RiverWatch Environmental Education Program took Fort McMurray high school students out of the classroom and taught them about local river systems. The program educated 200 students on how to monitor aquatic ecosystems along a six-kilometer route along the rivers in Alberta. Corporate and government financial contributions made the RiverWatch program feasible.
The company knows that their mining activities disturb the land. However, after extraction, reclaiming the land to support vegetation and wildlife is the goal. In February 2008, the Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) and Suncor were recognized by Imagine Canada for their conservation offset initiative in the Boreal forest, which focused on protecting and maintaining wetland and watershed health. The recognition represented innovative collaborations between leading businesses and non-profit partners. The partnership generated over $1 million in investments that led to 1,750 acres of Boreal habitat to be secured for conservation by ACA.
Because Suncor and its partners have been environmental role models, other oil and gas companies have followed suit and are launching similar projects. Todd Zimmerling, CEO of ACA expressed his gratitude by saying, “We work together every step of the way, by means of an advisory committee to ensure this land is available for future generations to enjoy, value and use.”
Along with the ACA partnerships, Suncor also works closely with neighboring companies to reduce the overall effects of development and promote scientific research and good practices. Suncor also supports several research and conservation efforts through non-profit and multi-stakeholder organizations.
Training The Next Generation
Suncor knows that constant training in new technologies is paramount to their success. In 2009, Red Rocks Community College was awarded monies that expanded the engineering and training facilities for process operators and craft technicians, as well as general science and operations professionals.
In 2008 Ceres, an organization of investors, environmental organizations and public interest groups, recognized Suncor for their Climate Action Plan efforts. Furthermore, in 2007 Suncor was named to the top ten list of Fortune “10 Green Giants in Business.” - a list of businesses that go above and beyond what is required to operate in a friendly, environmentally responsible manner.
Suncor’s investment in carbon capture techniques, water management plans, and greenhouse gas management programs is what sets them apart. Gord Lambert says, “It is great to be recognized for our environmental work and stand among others who are committed to sustainability. We’ve worked hard to get to where we are and we will continue our efforts as we grow our business.”