Air pollutant emissions from the oil and gas sector

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The oil and gas sector is an important contributor to air pollutant emissions. Air pollutants are responsible for the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone (O3), smog and acid rain. They also adversely affect human health and the economy. Most emissions from the oil and gas sector come from activities such as exploration, drilling, production and field processing.

Key results

  • In 2015, the oil and gas industry was a major contributor to total national emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (37%), sulphur oxides (SOX) (22%), nitrogen oxides (NOX) (25%) and carbon monoxide (CO) (10%).
  • Emissions from the oil and gas industry mostly come from upstream activities (exploration, drilling, production and field processing). Downstream activities (refining, storage and distribution) made up no more than a fifth of air pollutant emissions from the oil and gas industry in 2015.
  • The oil and gas industry is also a source of emissions of PM2.5 and ammonia (NH3). However, in 2015, it made up less than 1% of the total emissions of these pollutants.

Contribution of the oil and gas industry to national air pollutant emissions, Canada, 2015

Stacked column chart showing the contribution of the oil and gas industry to national air pollutant emissions. Long description below.
Long description

The stacked column chart shows the contribution in percent of the oil and gas industry to total national emissions of volatile organic compounds, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide in 2015 in Canada for upstream and downstream oil and gas activities.

Data for this chart
Contribution of the oil and gas industry to national air pollutant emissions, Canada, 2015
Activity type Volatile organic compounds (percentage of national emissions) Sulphur oxides (percentage of national emissions) Nitrogen oxides (percentage of national emissions) Carbon monoxide (percentage of national emissions) Fine particulate matter (percentage of national emissions) Ammonia (percentage of national emissions)
Upstream oil and gas 35.9 17.9 22.6 9.0 0.5 0.4
Downstream oil and gas 1.4 4.3 2.0 0.6 0.1 <0.1
Emissions of air pollutants from the oil and gas industry, Canada, 2015
Activity type Volatile organic compounds (kilotonnes) Sulphur oxides (kilotonnes) Nitrogen oxides (kilotonnes) Carbon monoxide (kilotonnes) Fine particulate matter (kilotonnes) Ammonia (kilotonnes)
Upstream oil and gas 668 189 429 506 9 2
Downstream oil and gas 25 45 39 34 2 < 1

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.05 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Fine particulate matter and ammonia are not shown in the chart due to their low share (≤ 1%) of total emissions in 2015.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

More information

In 2015, the oil and gas industry was the sector contributing the most to total national emissions of VOCs. It was also the second-largest contributor to emissions of NOX and the third-largest contributor to emissions of SOX and CO.

Changes in emissions from the oil and gas industry

Key results

  • Emissions of CO, NOX and VOCs increased by 61%, 36% and 18%, respectively, between 1990 and 2015.
  • Sulphur oxides were the only pollutants whose emissions decreased over that period.

Changes in emissions of key air pollutants from the oil and gas industry, Canada, 1990 to 2015

Line chart showing changes in emissions of key air pollutants from the oil and gas industry. Long description below.
Long description

The indexed line chart shows emissions changes from 1990 to 2015, as a percent of 1990 emissions, for 4 air pollutants from the oil and gas industry: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and sulphur oxides.

Data for this chart
Changes in emissions of key air pollutants from the oil and gas industry, Canada, 1990 to 2015
Year Carbon monoxide (emissions changes as a percentage of 1990 levels) Nitrogen oxides (emissions changes as a percentage of 1990 levels) Volatile organic compounds (emissions changes as a percentage of 1990 levels) Sulphur oxides (emissions changes as a percentage of 1990 levels)
1990 0 0 0 0
1991 -3 -2 -1 0
1992 1 3 2 8
1993 8 10 6 13
1994 19 19 8 12
1995 22 24 10 11
1996 25 28 15 11
1997 40 40 14 3
1998 45 44 16 -4
1999 49 49 9 -4
2000 33 33 12 -5
2001 41 33 13 -8
2002 50 32 14 -14
2003 63 47 15 -10
2004 52 26 12 -11
2005 49 27 13 -12
2006 53 32 12 -19
2007 57 35 11 -24
2008 63 36 13 -29
2009 59 36 6 -31
2010 58 34 7 -37
2011 60 37 6 -39
2012 57 33 16 -40
2013 65 33 24 -44
2014 61 37 27 -51
2015 61 36 18 -56
Emissions of key air pollutants from the oil and gas industry, Canada, 1990 to 2015
Year Carbon monoxide (kilotonnes) Nitrogen oxides (kilotonnes) Volatile organic compounds (kilotonnes) Sulphur oxides (kilotonnes)
1990 335 345 588 534
1991 323 338 583 536
1992 338 354 597 576
1993 361 380 624 606
1994 398 411 637 599
1995 407 427 649 594
1996 419 440 677 592
1997 469 484 668 549
1998 487 495 680 515
1999 499 513 640 513
2000 444 458 658 508
2001 471 457 666 493
2002 503 456 672 459
2003 544 506 673 480
2004 510 435 660 473
2005 499 436 661 470
2006 513 455 661 432
2007 527 466 655 404
2008 544 470 663 378
2009 533 470 624 368
2010 529 460 630 337
2011 537 471 625 328
2012 527 459 682 318
2013 553 460 729 301
2014 540 471 747 264
2015 539 467 693 234

Download data file (Excel/CSV; 1.82 KB)

How this indicator was calculated

Note: Fine particulate matter and ammonia are not shown in the chart due to their low share (≤ 1%) of total emissions in 2015.
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada (2017) Air Pollutant Emission Inventory.

More information

The increases in CO, NOX and VOC emissions were due to growth in oil and gas production (the upstream sector of the industry), as emissions from the downstream sector declined during that period. This increase is in part explained by the fact that crude oil production had more than doubled in Canada since 1990. The growth was mostly driven by a rapid increase in oil sands production. During the same period, production of natural gas from unconventional sources, such as those requiring the use of multi-stage fracturing techniques, also increased significantly.

The decrease in SOX emissions was mostly the result of a decrease in emissions from bitumen and heavy oil upgrading and natural gas processing, attributed to better emission control technologies.

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