The Oil Sands and Carbon Pollution

“The oilsands only accounts for a small fraction of the world’s CO2 emissions, so why should I care about what Canada is doing when other countries are far worse polluters?”

The Pembina Institute has written extensively about this issue, so we will defer to their analysis:

Average greenhouse gas emissions for oilsands extraction and upgrading are estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as intensive per barrel as for conventional crude oil produced in Canada or the United States.1
  • The greenhouse gas emissions from individual projects vary considerably because of differences in technologies, practices and oilsands quality from project to project.
  • Production of synthetic crude oil from oilsands mining operations results in 73 kilograms of CO2e emitted per barrel of bitumen or synthetic crude produced.2
  • Production of synthetic crude oil from in situ operations with cogeneration results in 83 kilograms of CO2e emitted per barrel of bitumen or synthetic crude produced. In situ operations without cogeneration results in 74 kilograms of CO2e per barrel produced.3
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands production in 2022 are projected to be the equivalent to adding 22.6 million cars to the road in the U.S.4
  • Average emissions per barrel for conventional crude oil production are 35.2 kilograms of CO2 equivalent in Canada and 24.5 kilograms of CO2 equivalent in the U.S.5
Even on a full life cycle (well-to-wheels) basis, oilsands greenhouse gas emissions intensities are between 8% and 37% higher than conventional crude, due to the greater amount of oilsands production emissions.
  • Well-to-wheels includes emissions from production, upgrading, refining, transportation, and use (combustion) in a vehicle. The greenhouse gas emissions resulting from refining, transport, and combustion of oilsands crude is essentially the same as conventional crude. Combustion accounts for most of the emissions, regardless of the source.
  • A comparison of oilsands emissions intensities (well-to-wheels) from seven data sources to the 2005 U.S. baseline (the average of all fuels consumed in the U.S. that year, calculated by the EPA) showed that oilsands emissions range from 8% to 37% higher than the baseline due to the greater production emission intensities of fuels derived from oilsands.6
  • According to a peer-reviewed study completed for the European fuel-quality directive, the average oilsands GHG emission intensity is approximately 23% greater than the average conventional crude used in Europe on a life cycle basis.7
About 7% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions came from oilsands plants and upgraders in 2010.8
  • Oilsands plants and upgraders produced 48 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2010, an increase of 31 million tonnes over 2000 levels.9,10
Oilsands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.11
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands have almost tripled (increased 2.9 times) in the past two decades.12,13 Planned growth under current provincial and federal policies indicates greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands will continue to rise resulting in more than a doubling of emissions between 2010 and 2020, 48 million tonnes in 2010 to 104 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2020.14
  • Overall, Canada’s annual GHG emissions are projected to increase by 20 Mt between 2005 and 2020, under currently announced federal and provincial policies.15 Emissions from the oilsands (including emissions from upgrading) are projected to grow by 73 Mt over the same period.16 Because the ups and downs in emissions in other sectors largely cancel each other out, essentially the entire projected increase in Canada’s emissions between 2005 and 2020 will come from the oilsands.
If Alberta were a country, its per capita greenhouse gas emissions would be higher than any other country in the world.
  • At a rate of 69 tonnes CO2 equivalent per person, if Alberta were a country, it would have per capita emissions more than three times that of either the U.S. or Canada.17,18
  • Internationally, Qatar had the highest emissions intensity in 2007 (48.8 tonnes per person) and Canada ranked ninth (17.7 tonnes per person).19

 

Footnotes

1. National Energy Technology Laboratory, Development of Baseline Data and Analysis of Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Petroleum-Based Fuels, DOE/NETL-2009/1346 (2008), 13, table 2-4.

2. Government of Alberta GHG Reporting Program, years: 2009-2010

3. Government of Alberta GHG Reporting Program, years: 2009-2010

4. Jennifer Grant, Eli Angen and Simon Dyer, Forecasting the impacts of oilsands expansion (Pembina Institute 2013), 4.

5. National Energy Technology Laboratory, Development of Baseline Data and Analysis of Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Petroleum-Based Fuels, 12, table 2-4.

6. Natural Resources Defense Council, Setting the Record Straight: Lifecycle Emissions of Tar Sands (2010), 2.

7. Adam Brandt, Upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Canadian oil sands as a feedstock for European refineries, Executive summary (Department of Energy Resources, Stanford University, 2011), 41–42.

8. Environment Canada, Canada’s Emission Trends (2012), 19 (figure 3) and 24 (table 5) (accessed January 15, 2013).

9. Environment Canada, Canada’s Emission Trends (2012), 24 (table 5) (accessed January 15, 2013).

10. Environment Canada, “National Inventory Report – Part 1 1990-2008 Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada”, 86.

11. The ecoENERGY Carbon Capture and Storage Task Force, “Canada’s Fossil Energy Future”  (Natural Resources Canada, 2008), 8.

12. Oilsands greenhouse gas emissions were 16.8 Mt CO2e in 1990. Environment Canada, “National Inventory Report – Part 1 1990-2008 Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada”, 86.

13. Oilsands greenhouse gas emissions were 48 Mt CO2e in 2010. Environment Canada,Canada’s Emission Trends (2012), 24 (table 5).

14. Environment Canada, Canada’s Emission Trends (2012), 24 (table 5).

15. Environment Canada, Canada’s Emission Trends (2012), 19 (figure 3).

16. Environment Canada, Canada’s Emission Trends (2012), 24 (table 5).

17. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990 – 2008 (accessed January 15, 2012)

18. Alberta’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 were 244 megatonnes of CO2equivalent. (Environment Canada, “National Inventory Report – Part 3 1990-2008 Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada”) Alberta’s population in 2008 was estimated to be 3.51 million people. (Alberta Finance, Alberta Population Report (2008) (accessed January 15, 2013)).

19. World Resources Institute, Climate Analysis Indicators Tool: Yearly Emissions(accessed February 16, 2011).

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