The Carbon Underground Tar Sands 20TM

The World’s Top 20 Public Companies

Ranked by the Carbon Content of their Oil Sands Reserves

  • FFI Tar Sands 20
Long opposed for their huge environmental footprint and resource-intensive production, oil sands reserves generate a premium of CO2 emissions over conventionally produced oil because of the energy required to extract and process them. FFI’s Tar Sands 20TM lists the largest publicly-traded holders of unexploited oil sands reserves worldwide.

Dropping 18.3% in 2017, The Tar Sands 20 saw its first ever decrease in embedded emissions from proven oil sands reserves. Capital investment requirements for oil sands extraction and upgrading are immense. Mining and in situ operations are among the highest cost per barrel projects in the industry. Persistently low oil prices have caused proven reserves to be revised downward and multinational oil companies to exit the market by selling assets to local producers. It is unlikely that all oil sands operations will survive in a “lower forever” environment.


The Tar Sands 20 builds on the work of The Carbon Underground 200TM, which ranks the top public fossil fuel companies based on the potential CO2 emissions embedded in their reported proven reserves. This potential reserves-based emissions methodology does not account for other life-cycle emissions such as extraction, transport, refining and distribution.

Recognizing that oil extracted from oil sands is the most energy-intensive type of oil to refine, FFI researches and tracks the companies holding oil sands reserves to produce The Tar Sands 20, ranking the holders of oil sands reserves by potential emissions. The Tar Sands 20 utilizes regulatory filings, Canadian government data, and other sources to rank companies by proven oil sands reserves and provide the context for their oil sands exposure relative to their complete fossil fuel reserves portfolio.

The growth rate of potential CO2 emissions from oil sands has far exceeded the growth rate of potential oil and gas emissions overall. Oil price volatility, government carbon regulations, and environmental activism force these unconventional high cost assets into the highest risk for becoming stranded.

2017 Rankings
(as of 31-Jul-2017)
Reserves HolderPotential
(Gt CO2)
1Suncor Energy0.666
2Imperial Oil0.604
3Canadian Natural Resources0.507
4Royal Dutch Shell0.316
5Cenovus Energy0.279
Top 5Oil Sands Companies2.372
Top 6 - 10Oil Sands Companies0.935
Top 11 - 20Oil Sands Companies0.702



Listed Companies

Updated quarterly, companies on the list are typically investable as of one week post-calendar quarter end. Subsidiaries with their own exchange listings that report reserves separately from their parent are eligible for inclusion. Companies that publicly trade only a portion of their overall shares are also eligible for inclusion.


The rankings are based on calculated carbon emissions data using reported reserves as of the latest available updates at calendar quarter end. For companies not reporting oil sands separately, these reserves are estimated.


Rankings are constructed using a reserves-based methodology with the underlying core data based on reported and, in some cases, estimated reserves. Companies are ranked on proven reserves (1P) net of royalty payments.

Emissions Calculations

The Carbon Underground 200 relies on the IPCC Revised 1996 Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories as a methodological framework. The calculation of CO2 emission potential requires several conversions to the raw reserves figures.


Tar Sands 20 Subscriptions

With the Carbon Underground Tar Sands 20 list, those wishing to focus on carbon risk embedded in proven unconventional oil reserves now have the definitive tool for targeting, screening and engaging these companies specifically. Updated quarterly, The Tar Sands 20 tracks about 80 companies listed on more than 10 international stock exchanges.

Institutional investors, pension funds, family offices, endowments, foundations, NGOs, and other investment professionals who wish to integrate ESG and responsible investment into their decision processes can:

  • Isolate the most environmentally harmful reserves
  • Combine with The Carbon Underground Coal 100 and use as first step or bridge to full divestment
  • Assess portfolio exposure to high potential stranded assets
  • Create investment strategies based on unconventional reserves ownership
The Carbon Underground Tar Sands 20 Factsheet

The full Tar Sands 20 list is available to subscribers.
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