Refining and Petrochemicals

Photo of chemicals in glass beakers A refinery is a factory that converts conventional and synthetic crude oil and other feedstocks and turns them into gasoline and petroleum products.

Petrochemicals are products manufactured from crude oil and natural gas.

Alberta is Canada's leading producer of petrochemicals. Located primarily in Joffre and Fort Saskatchewan, the industry is one of the largest in the province. It features four ethane-cracking plants, including two of the world's largest, with combined annual capacity to produce 8.6 billion pounds of ethylene.

Alberta's petrochemical industry uses natural gas liquids, mainly ethane, for feedstock to produce ethylene. Ethylene is used to manufacture polyethylene for flexible packaging material, ethylene glycol and styrene. In turn, styrene is used for many consumer products such as expanded polystyrene cups and ethylene glycol is used for textiles and for antifreeze. The industry produces numerous other products including fertilizer, see the bottom of this page for additional products.

The viability of the Alberta petrochemical industry is built on access to a long-term secure supply of natural gas feedstock, availability of natural gas at competitive pricing - and an ability to access global markets with competitively-priced derivatives.

As a result of approximately $9 billion in capital investment since the 1970s, Alberta's petrochemical industry has substantially increased its production capacity for ethylene, polyethylene, ethylene glycol and linear olefins. In recent years, for example, ethylene capacity has nearly doubled as a result of expansions at Joffre and at Fort Saskatchewan.

Fact sheets

Hydrocarbons derived from oil, when mixed with other substances, create products such as:

Plastics made from alkenes
Lubricants for machinery
Polyolefin wax is used in food packaging, candles and earplugs
Sulphur or sulphuric acid, used in manufacturing steel and fertilizer
Asphalt, used in road construction
Some products from oil used in our daily lives:

Plastic dishes and hard hats
TVs and computers
Camera film

Natural gas liquids include derivatives of ethane, propane and butane, these petrochemical feedstocks can be manufactured into other products.

Ethane can manufactured to be ethylene, ethylene glycol, polyvinyl chloride, styrene and linear low-density polyethylene. Examples of end products include film, moulding, wire and cable, flooring, plastics, detergents, synthetic lubricants, PVC pipe and cable.

Propane can be manufactured to be propylene and polypropylene. Examples of end products include automotive parts, appliances and toys.

Butane includes isobutylene and butyl alcohol. Examples of end products include Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE), synthetic rubber, nylon fibres, plastics, acetic acid, household plumbing and chewing gum.