Suncor Energy Inc. is discussing with the Alberta government leaving some oil-sands bitumen in the ground in order to lower emissions and reduce costs, Chief Executive Officer Steve Williams said.

The provincial government in Alberta requires producers to extract “a very high percentage” of the fossil fuel at a given project because those reserves are owned by the public, Williams said Thursday during a conference call with analysts. While it’s “counter-intuitive” to consider leaving oil in the ground, doing so would yield economic and environmental benefits, he added.

“You could be talking about 10 or 20 percent improvements in the economics of some of those extraction operations,” Williams said. “We would like to leave that last piece in” and produce the best parts of a site, he added.

Suncor plans to hold total greenhouse gas emissions at current levels through 2030, even as it boosts crude production, by reducing the carbon output per barrel. Canada’s largest oil producer by market value aims to reach its goal by switching to lower-carbon fuels such as natural gas and using renewable electricity and co-generation. 

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