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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
Canadian Petroleum Heritage
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Air Quality

Air QualityThere are many different kinds of air pollution. Air pollution can be seen as smog, low air quality, and acid rain. Emissions of different pollutants have contributed to local air quality concerns and global climate change.

One of the pollutants is benzene, which is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon in crude oil and natural gas. Benzene can be released into the atmosphere from glycol dehydrators, incomplete combustion of gas in flares, escaping emissions from stock tank vents and sumps, and leaks in processing equipment. High levels of exposure to benzene have been found to be associated with an increased incidence of cancers among workers.

Another major concern for air quality is flaring. Flaring is the burning of waste gases during well testing and in petroleum production operations. Flaring may occur during the disposal of unwanted or unusable volumes of gas, the gas-processing equipment for maintenance, or during emergencies as a means to protect people and the environment. For example, the hydrogen sulphide (H2S) in sour gas is toxic and heavier than air; if not flared, it could pose a hazard to workers.

The air pollution levels in Canada have also impacted global climate change. The international scientific community has concluded that the rapid increase in the concentration of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere can be expected to increase the earth's surface temperature, change our climate, alter our environment, and endanger our health. The organization Cleanair.ca pointed out that Canada is the second highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gas in the industrialized world. The oil and gas industry have set goals to reduce GHG levels by having voluntary measures including pollution prevention planning, emission reduction programs, and emissions trading. In their corporate visions, companies have included air quality objective settings, and environmental assessment of refineries and other petrochemical plants.

Carbon Sequestration

One promising solution to the problem of reducing greenhouse gas emissions lies in the process of carbon sequestration, the capturing of CO2 emissions before they are vented into the atmosphere and injecting the gas into underground reservoirs. In this excerpt from the JuneWarren publication, The Great Canadian Oil Patch: The Petroleum Era from Birth to Peak, author Earle Gray describes the research into carbon sequestration, and the promise this process holds for a cleaner atmosphere. Read more…


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