Imperial Oil
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Imperial Oil is Canada’s second-largest integrated oil company. It is Canada’s largest petroleum refiner24 and one of its largest natural gas producers, with total assets valued at over C$41 billion in 2017.25

Why the top 50?

Imperial Oil is one of the five biggest oil sands producers and a major emitter of greenhouse gases. Imperial is a subsidiary of global energy giant ExxonMobil, which recent investigations reveal has spent millions of dollars promoting misinformation about climate change.26

Key Stats

Head office: Calgary, Alberta

Countries of operation: Canada

Revenue: C$29.1 billion27

Assets: C$41.6 billion28

Reserves: 4,111,000,000 oil bbl, 511,000 gas MMcf29

Production: oil, natural gas liquids and oil sands: 355,000 bbl/d; natural gas: 120.000 MMcf/d; total: 375,000 boe/d30

Memberships: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Canadian Fuels Association, Chemistry Industry Association of Canada,31 Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance32

In Depth

Imperial’s history began in 1880, when 16 refiners in southwestern Ontario founded the Imperial Oil Company, Ltd. in London, Ontario. Imperial Oil’s upstream development began in 1920, following the discovery of oil along the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, in what is today known as the Norman Wells oil field.1


Shareholder Country Ownership
Share (%)
Exxon Mobil Corp. US 69.60
Artisan Partners Asset Management Inc. US 3.62
First Eagle Investment Management Inc. US 2.67
Royal Bank of Canada CA 1.82
Toronto-Dominion Bank CA 0.97

Included are all shareholdings of approximately 1% and greater. Source: Orbis Database, October 2018.


Imperial’s business can be divided into three main segments: upstream, downstream and chemical. Its upstream production focuses on exploration for and production of crude oil, natural gas and bitumen. The downstream production includes refining, blending, distributing and marketing oil-based products. The chemical business segment includes manufacturing and marketing petrochemical products.


Imperial’s Cold Lake site is the longest-running oil operation in northeastern Alberta, and it is one of the largest thermal in situ heavy oil operations in the world, producing an average of approximately 160,000 barrels of bitumen a day.2 The company operates five processing plants in the area: Leming (began production in 1975), Maskwa (1985), Mahihkan (1985), Mahkeses (2002) and Nabiye (2015). The company is planning on expanding its Cold Lake operations to include a steam-assisted gravity drainage project. the project was approved by the Alberta Energy Regulator in 2016, but no final investment decision has been made.3 Imperial also produces from its Kearl site, one of its largest oil sands reserves, with an estimated 4.6 billion barrels total and a daily production rate of 220,000 barrels.4 In the Northwest Territories, Imperial runs its Norman Wells operations, where it drills for crude oil and runs a central processing facility.5 Imperial also owns 25 per cent of Syncrude Canada, a large oil sands joint venture whose other owners are Suncor Energy, Sinopec Oil Sands Partnership and CNOOC Oil Sands Canada.6


Imperial’s downstream assets include refineries in Sarnia and Nanticoke, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, in addition to a Canada-wide distribution system including 22 terminals, pipelines, and tanker, rail and road transportation networks. Imperial’s Sarnia operation is an integrated fuel refining, chemical manufacturing and petroleum research facility with a refining capacity of 120,000 barrels of crude oil per day. It uses mostly Canadian crude oil to produce a range of petroleum products, including gasoline, aviation fuel, diesel and home heating fuel.7
lmperial was also the long-standing owner of nearly 500 Esso gas stations until March 2016, when the company sold them for C$2.8 billion to various corporations that now act as “branded wholesalers.”8 The stations still receive their supply of fuel from Imperial Oil, which continues as the owner of the Esso brand.9


Imperial’s chemical plant in Sarnia produces a wide range of petroleum-based products, including polyethylene, lubricating oils, solvents, higher olefins and polyurethanes.10


Imperial Oil is banking on the prolonged consumption of fossil fuels as it invests in new technologies that can enhance profitability in an uncertain economic and ecological future.

Imperial is a founding member of Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA), an industry group focused on improving environmental performance in the oil sands and developing carbon capture and storage.11 Part of COSIA’s research agenda includes technology to reduce the amount of fresh water used in situ oil sands operations.

In 2005 Imperial partnered with the University of Alberta’s Engineering Department to found the Institute for Oil Sands Innovation, a university-based research institute working to “green” the oil sands by reducing the amount of energy and water used during extraction and production.12 Imperial Oil is also a member of the Oil Sands Vegetation Cooperative, a COSIA initiative which funds the harvest and banking of native plant seeds to be replanted on Imperial’s oil sands extraction sites once their reserves have been exhausted. 13

Alongside its funding efforts to reduce the impacts of its operations, Imperial continues to grow its asset base of undeveloped reserves, meaning that it plans to increase its production of gas and oil in the coming years.14 This means that the net climate impact of Imperial’s operations will continue to rise.


Imperial Oil has been negligent in its operations on many occasions. In 2011 the company was charged for three environmental violations after it pumped over 3,000 litres of chemicals from its Norman Wells facilities in the Northwest Territories into the Mackenzie River.15

Imperial’s refinery in Sarnia has also been the site of many environmental violations. In 2014, Imperial was fined $650,000 after leaking hydrogen sulphide gas into the environment.16 Despite informing its employees that the incident was an “ongoing emergency” three hours after the leak had taken place, the company did not notify the public, and the Sarnia police claimed that the effects did not go “off site.”17 However, following the leak, some residents of central and north Sarnia reported experiencing symptoms from exposure such as lightheadedness, nausea and dizziness.18

The company is currently under investigation by the Ontario provincial government for flaring hydrocarbons at its Sarnia location in February 2017, resulting in towering flames engulfing the facility and causing a grass fire to break out nearby.19 The flaring continued on and off for 10 days. Vanessa Gray, a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation on whose territory Imperial’s Sarnia refinery is situated, noted that the incident was one among many, citing 10 other malfunction-related flaring incidents that had taken place since 2014.20

Imperial’s Sarnia operations contribute to Sarnia’s nickname as “Chemical Valley”—cited by the World Health Organization in 2012 as the location with the most polluted air in Canada.21

In April 2016, documents revealed that Imperial Oil suppressed its own research that proved that its products were contributing to climate change while publicly stating that carbon dioxide is “not a pollutant” and that it has no deleterious impact on the “day-to-day weather.” 22 The revelations, uncovered by DeMelle and Grandia of DeSmogBlog, followed a series of similar cases of climate denial by Imperial’s major shareholder, ExxonMobil.23

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  1. Imperial, “Our History,” accessed April 15th, 2019,
  2. Imperial, “Cold Lake,” accessed April 15th, 2019,
  3. Imperial, “Cold Lake.”
  4. Imperial, “Kearl,” accessed April 15th, 2019,,
  5. “Learn about Imperial and Its Operations in the Town of Norman Wells.” Imperial OIl, 2019, http://www.imperialoil.ca
  6. Syncrude, “Ownership and Investors,” accessed April 15th, 2019,,
  7. “Learn about Sarnia.” Imperial Oil, 2019, http://www.imperialoil.ca
  8. Geoffrey Morgan, “Imperial Oil to Sell Remaining 497 Esso Stations to Five Fuel Distributors for $2.8 Billion,” Financial Post, March 8, 2016,
  9. Esso Mobil Fuels, “IOL Sale FAQ—Esso Customer Questions,” accessed April 15th, 2019,
  10. Imperial, “Sarnia,” accessed April 15th, 2019,,
  11. Imperial, “Water Management,” accessed April 4, 2019,
  12. University of Alberta Faculty of Engineering, “Institute for Oil Sands Innovation (IOSI),” accessedApril 15th, 2019,,
  13. Imperial, “Progressive Reclamation,” April 4, 2019,
  14. Imperial, “2017 Annual Financial Statements.”
  15. CBC News, “Imperial Oil Fined $195K for Environmental Crimes,” CBC News, September 16, 2011,
  16. Government of Ontario: Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, “Sarnia Refinery and Chemical Plant Fined $650,000 for Environmental Protection Act Violations” (news release), September 21, 2016,
  17. Colin Graf, “Odours from Sarnia Chemical Plant Leak Scare Neighbours,” The Star, February 8, 2014,
  18. Government of Ontario, “Sarnia Refinery and Chemical Plant Fined $650,000.”
  19. James Wilt, “Imperial Oil Could Face Charges for Violent Flaring Incident in Ontario’s Chemical Valley,” The Narwhal, May 1, 2018,
  20. Wilt, “Imperial Oil Could Face Charges.”
  21. Wilt, “Imperial Oil Could Face Charges.”
  22. Brendan DeMelle and Kevin Grandia, “‘There Is No Doubt’: Exxon Knew C02 Pollution Was a Global Threat by Late 1970s,” DeSmogBlog, April 26, 2016,
  23. Mike De Souza, “Imperial Oil Described Its Climate-Warming Business as ‘Anti-social,’” National Observer, April 26, 2016,
  24. Imperial, “Company Overview,” accessed April 15th, 2019,
  25. Imperial, “2017 Annual Financial Statements and Management Discussion and Analysis,”
  26. Shannon Hall, “Exxon Knew about Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago,” Scientific American, October 26, 2015,
  27. Imperial, “2017 Annual Financial Statements.”
  28. Imperial, “2017 Annual Financial Statements.”
  29. “Top 80 Canadian Companies by Reserves,” Oilweek, June 2018,
  30. “Top 100 Canadian Companies by Production,” Oilweek, June 2018,
  31. CDP, “Search and View Past CDP Responses: Imperial Oil Climate Change 2017,” accessed April 15th, 2019,
  32. COSIA, “COSIA Is an Alliance of Canada’s Largest Oil Sands Producers,” accessed April 15th, 2019,