Air emissions


Imperial recognizes we have an important role to play in reducing emissions to help improve air quality in the communities in which we operate. Our goal is to reduce emissions from our facilities, focusing our efforts and investments on the needs of the local air sheds around our operations. We are taking steps to reduce air emissions by reducing energy use, implementing cost-effective emissions controls and improving our leak detection and repair program for fugitive emissions.

Provincial air quality requirements, as well as limits prescribed by our operating permits, help guide our operations to ensure emissions from our operations are at safe levels. In addition to monitoring air quality near our fenceline, we also collaborate with government, industry and other groups to maintain regional air monitoring networks that measure air quality trends in the regions where we operate. We meet regularly with community residents and stakeholders to review air quality and discuss concerns.

Air quality innovation and technology collaboration

Reduction of fugitive emissions (from unintended leaks in equipment) is a priority across our operations. Key to addressing fugitive emissions are effective leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs, and we are testing new advanced technologies to continue to improve our performance in this area.

Imperial recently piloted an aerial-based, next generation remote sensing technology at our Cold Lake operation to more efficiently and cost-effectively detect and measure fugitive emissions and support timely repair. And we have partnered with VEERUM Inc. to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to create digital twins of our Kearl and Cold Lake assets, which will allow us to link LDAR data to maintenance tasks, which should lead to expedited repair activities.

Air metrics and performance

Sulfur emissions

A significant focus for Imperial in 2021 was the development of sulfur dioxide (SO₂) emission reduction plans for our Sarnia and Nanticoke refineries and chemical plants, expected to reduce our SO₂ emissions by approximately 50 per cent at Nanticoke and more than 90 per cent at Sarnia by the end of 2028.1

To meet these goals, Imperial’s plans include installing emissions abatement equipment, using SO₂ reducing additives in our production process, and implementing reliability improvements to drive reductions. Achieving these results will be challenging and will require ongoing engagement with stakeholders, with a priority focus on timely and meaningful engagement with neighbouring Indigenous communities.


Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are primarily created by combustion of fuel in stationary equipment such as boilers and furnaces or in mobile equipment like haul trucks, excavators, and dozers. Imperial’s NOx reduction plan involves introducing new, lower-emission equipment at our sites. For example, any new boilers installed at our facilities are low-NOx burners. In 2019, we installed low-NOx burners in our steam boilers at Strathcona, which is currently pursuing a plan that will further reduce NOx emissions from this refinery by approximately 20 per cent, by 2028.1

To help address NOx emissions at our Kearl mine, Imperial is transitioning to the use of Tier 4 mine mobile equipment2 which uses advanced exhaust gas after-treatment technologies3, and is designed to improve air quality and significantly reduce emissions produced and released from combustion. To date about 36 per cent of our mobile fleet at Kearl meet Tier 4 equipment standards.


A primary source of volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions at our operations is a result of fugitive emissions. We have expanded our leak detection and repair (LDAR) programs and installed VOC emissions controls to meet enhanced regulatory requirements. Our actions have decreased total VOC emissions from 14 thousand (18) metric tonnes per year in 2015 to 10.1 thousand metric tonnes per year in 2021 (27 per cent reduction).


Across our operations, our goal is to reduce flaring through improved operating practices and, where appropriate, equipment upgrades. We continue to see a reduction of flaring at our upstream operations, driven in large part by improved reliability at Kearl. Since 2016, we have reduced flaring in our upstream operations by more than 30 per cent.


1Versus the five year average up to and including 2019. 
2Dependent on equipment maintenance strategies and commercial availability. 
3What Are Tier 4 Diesel Engine Standards? – CrossCo