Air pollutant emissions from the oil and gas industry

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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 typeVolatile organic com-pounds (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 gas35.917.922.69.00.50.4
Downstream oil and gas1.44.32.00.60.1<0.1
Emissions of air pollutants from the oil and gas industry, Canada, 2015
Activity typeVolatile organic com-pounds (kilotonnes)Sulphur oxides (kilotonnes)Nitrogen oxides (kilotonnes)Carbon monoxide (kilotonnes)Fine particulate matter (kilotonnes)Ammonia (kilotonnes)
Upstream oil and gas66818942950692
Downstream oil and gas254539342< 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
YearCarbon 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)
19900000
1991-3-2-10
19921328
1993810613
19941919812
199522241011
199625281511
19974040143
1998454416-4
199949499-4
2000333312-5
2001413313-8
2002503214-14
2003634715-10
2004522612-11
2005492713-12
2006533212-19
2007573511-24
2008633613-29
200959366-31
201058347-37
201160376-39
2012573316-40
2013653324-44
2014613727-51
2015613618-56
Emissions of key air pollutants from the oil and gas industry, Canada, 1990 to 2015
YearCarbon monoxide (kilotonnes)Nitrogen oxides (kilotonnes)Volatile organic compounds (kilotonnes)Sulphur oxides (kilotonnes)
1990335345588534
1991323338583536
1992338354597576
1993361380624606
1994398411637599
1995407427649594
1996419440677592
1997469484668549
1998487495680515
1999499513640513
2000444458658508
2001471457666493
2002503456672459
2003544506673480
2004510435660473
2005499436661470
2006513455661432
2007527466655404
2008544470663378
2009533470624368
2010529460630337
2011537471625328
2012527459682318
2013553460729301
2014540471747264
2015539467693234

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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