Energy Processing in Alberta

Increasing the value of Alberta’s raw resources and information about upgrading and refining petrochemicals.

Services and information


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 4 ethane-cracking plants, including 2 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. 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.

Development support programs

To encourage the development of more oil and gas processing in Alberta and to help diversify Alberta’s energy sector, the following 3 programs were created under the Energy Diversification Act:

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

Prior to these programs, the Government of Alberta established the Incremental Ethane Extraction program (IEEP), under the Incremental Ethane Extraction Regulation, in 2006 with an approved budget of C$350 million. The program provides credits to petrochemical companies that increase their ethane consumption from an established baseline. This increased consumption created greater demand, which incentivized investment in refinery process off-gas and ethane extraction facilities. The ethane is upgraded to higher-value petrochemical products such as ethylene and derivatives. The program was amended after a 2011 review, followed by new program guidelines and a faculties map. While a number of facilities are still earning credits, IEEP is now closed to new applications.


Fact sheets

Historical reports

The Hydrocarbon Upgrading Task Force (HUTF) released a series of 24 report while it was active between 2004 and 2009. The industry/government Task Force 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 task force consisted of 119 members from 85 organizations representing government and industry (including oil sands producers, refiners, and petrochemical stakeholders).

Alberta Polypropylene Market Study (PDF, 247 KB) (2004) – The Government of Alberta commissioned Williams Energy and Alberta Industrial Heartland Association to study the economic feasibility of producing polypropylene in Alberta. This study identified probable markets for Alberta-produced polypropylene and market suppliers that would compete with the Alberta-produced polypropylene.

Alberta Polystyrene Production Options (PDF, 390 KB) (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 Prospects (PDF, 1.1 MB) (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 (PDF, 24 KB) (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

Illustration of how petrochemicals are used in the average home.


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

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.