The impact of petroleum fuels & refining on air quality

This is the first of a series regarding common myths about refining and transportation fuels. In this entry, let’s clear up myths about the environmental impact of petroleum fuels & refining.

Myth: Gasoline and diesel are dirty.
Fact: Fuels are constantly improving thanks to research and innovation. Transportation fuels are constantly being developed to be more energy dense and efficient and they are also getting cleaner.

Some of the improvements in recent years include: 
  • Higher o​ctane ratings
  • Improved stability to help reduce the formation of impurities in the fuel
  • Improved distillation characteristics, for smoother driving and steady acceleration
  • Modified formulations to reduce the smog forming potential and toxicity of unburned fuel
  • Reduced sulphur levels and the elimination of lead to increase the effectiveness of vehicle emissions control systems
  • Reduced volatility to reduce evaporative emissions from vehicles
  • Deposit control additives to minimize emissions from engines due to deposit formation in the intake manifold, on engine valves, or in combustion chambers.
The amount of emissions produced by fuels is drastically decreasing. Since 2005, our industry has invested $5-billion to reduce sulphur levels in gasoline by more than 90 percent, and in diesel by 97 percent. Further, the industry will also be spending an additional $1.2-billion to meet the new Tier 3 low sulphur fuel standards.

Environment and Climate Change Canada predicts that by 2030, total Canadian on-road vehicle emissions for nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter (PM2.5) will drop by 83 percent, 76 percent and 63 percent, respectively, compared to 2005.

Myth: Refineries are big polluters.
Fact: Our members have always been committed to reducing the environmental impact of emissions from refining.
Since 2002, we’ve decreased: Sulphur oxides by 52 percent; Nitrogen oxides by 42 percent; Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 47 percent; Total particulate matter (TPM) by 42 percent; and Benzene by 42 percent.

Twelve billion dollars has been invested in improving the environmental performance of the refineries and the fuels they produce since 2000.

Our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have been reduced by 9 percent since 1990, while producing 7 percent more products.

You can also learn more about some big projects some of our members are undertaking to further mitigate their environmental impact, such as:

Sturgeon Refinery is the first refinery in the world built to capture, store, and use CO2. The Sturgeon Refinery anticipates that it will store 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 every year, equivalent to taking almost 900,000 vehicles off our roads annually.

The Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) in Regina, Saskatchewan, uses their Wastewater Improvement Project to process wastewater so it can be recycled into steam production for refinery processes.

In 2015, Shell and its partners opened the Quest carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in Alberta, an initiative which aims to reduce the effects of global warming. In 2019, the Quest project reached an important milestone having captured and safely stored four million tonnes of CO2, ahead of schedule and at a lower cost than anticipated.

These projects and others continue to demonstrate the industry’s commitment to continuous improvement and innovation, to ensure it minimizes its impact on the environment.

In our next instalments of Mythbusters, we will look at the transition from fossil fuels to alternative fuels and whether or not the ICE is on the way out.
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