Energy Processing in Alberta

Energy processing increases the value of raw resources, refineries convert conventional and synthetic crude oil and other feedstocks 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. 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.

To encourage the development of more oil and gas processing in Alberta and to help diversify Alberta’s energy sector, three programs were created under the Energy Diversification Actexternal link iconof 2018, applications are now available for the Partial Upgrading programexternal link icon, the Petrochemicals Feedstock Infrastructure Programexternal link iconand the Petrochemicals Diversification Programexternal link icon (round 2). 

These initiatives build upon Alberta’s energy strengths to create thousands of jobs, attract billions of dollars in private investment and secure Alberta’s energy future through diversification and innovation.

Fostering energy diversification and increased investment in energy processing were key recommendations from the Energy Diversification Advisory Committeeexternal link icon, which delivered its final report to government in March 2018.

 Fact Sheets

Historical reports

  • The Incremental Ethane Extraction program (IEEP) under the Incremental Ethane Extraction Regulationexternal link icon, was established in 2006, with an approved budget of C$350 million. The program provided credits to petrochemical companies that reduced green house gas emissions by extracting ethane from the refinery process off-gases. The ethane was upgraded to higher-value petrochemical products such as ethylene and derivatives. The program was amended with a 2011 reviewexternal link icon, new program guidelines and a facilties mapexternal link icon followed.

  • The Hydrocarbon Upgrading Task Force (HUTF) released a series of 24 reports while it was active between 2004 and 2009. The HUFT was established to explore synergies of other competitive opportunities with the refining and petrochemical industries. The HUTF developed the business case for adding value to bitumen for new refining capacity and as a source of petrochemical feedstock. The 119 members from 85 organizations represented government and industry (including oil sands producers, refiners, and petrochemical stakeholders). 

  • Alberta Polypropylene Market StudyPDF icon(2004) Williams Energy, Alberta Industrial Heartland Association and the Government of Alberta to study the economic feasibility of producing polypropylene in Alberta.  This study identifies probable markets for Alberta-produced polypropylene and market suppliers that would compete with the Alberta-produced polypropylene.

  • Alberta Polystyrene Production OptionsPDF icon(2000) the government of Alberta commissioned Harry Blair Consultants to examine the economic potential of producing polystyrene (PS) in Alberta. An economic model was developed to evaluate the profitability of constructing and operating a crystal/impact PS plant in Alberta, using local styrene monomer as feedstock, and shipping the product locally or exporting to North America and Asia, results were positive.

  • Alberta Propylene Upgrade ProspectsPDF icon(2000) the government of Alberta commissioned T. J. McCann and Associates to identify propylene derivatives as prospects for investment in Alberta. The report discusses a number of  derivatives that could be produced in Alberta, but three, polypropylene, acrylonitrile and acrylic acid stood out as having superior potential.

  • Final Report of the Ethane and NGLs Task Force(1999) this report was submitted to Honourable Minister Steve West, by MLAs Rob Lougheed and Victor Doerksen on results of the Task Force review of Alberta's ethane and natural gas liquids (NGLs) policy framework.

Petrochemical Products


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
  • Plastic dishes and hard hats
  • TVs and computers
  • Camera film
  • Perfume
  • Running shoes
  • Velcro  

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.

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