Exxon announced it started its Kearl project, "which incorporates technological innovations to enhance environmental performance while enabling long-term production to meet future energy demand."
Exxon said technology at the facility means oil sands are processed in a way that cuts emissions and lowers associated operating expenses.
Kearl is estimated to reach is full design capacity of 345,000 barrels of oil per day by 2020.
Oil sands are controversial not only because of emissions but also because the product is considered more corrosive than conventional crude oil. This has sparked concerns about the safety of pipeline transmission. If spilled, oil sands sink in water, making remediation more complex.
Operators of oil sands facilities are required to present regular performance reviews to the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board.
The ERCB said last week that pipeline company Plains Midstream Canada could face more than $1.5 million in fines for a 2011 spill from its Rainbow oil pipeline in Alberta, The Globe and Mail newspaper reports.
Parent company Plains All American Pipeline was scrutinized in 2006 for a 7,500-barrel leak at a section of the same pipeline in Edmonton. Investigators blamed stress and corrosion for that leak. The pipeline was built in 1966.