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Climate Hustle

Tar Sands Impact on Climate Change

Posted on 23 August 2011 by dana1981

Beginning on 20 August 2011, Bill McKibben is leading what may be the largest green civil disobedience campaign in a generation, against the proposed construction of the 1,600-mile long Keystone XL pipeline.  The pipeline would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands in Canada to American refineries at the Gulf of Mexico, and many are concerned about the associated impacts on the climate.  Digging up new sources of fossil fuels will inevitably increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the tar sands result in higher carbon emissions than even conventional oil.  On 15 June 2011, the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Panel approved a bill to expedite a decision on the pipeline, possibly trying to rush it through before adequate environmental impact assessments are completed.

The project must be approved by President Obama in order to proceed, and the aim of the protest is to convince the president to reject the project.  If the Keystone pipeline is not approved, the tar sands oil may be stuck in place.  As McKibben noted,

"Alberta is remote, and its only other possible pipeline route — to the Pacific and hence Asia — is tangled in litigation."

McKibben is among those who have already been arrested for this display of civil obedience.  We felt that this would be a good time examine the climate impact of the tar sands and proposed pipeline.

Background and Politics

Tar sands (a.k.a. oil sands) are an unconventional deposits of petroleum containing bitumen, which is a very viscous form of petroleum generally known as tar or very heavy crude oil.  Alberta, Canada contains the largest deposits of crude bitumen in the world, the biggest of which is the Athabasca tar sands. 

There is political pressure in the USA to utilize oil from the tar sands, because although it's not quite a domestic energy source, obtaining oil from our friendly neighbors to the north is considered preferable to relying on sources in the less politically stable and friendly Middle East.

Additionally, gas prices have increased in recent years, and there has been pressure on politicians to take action to counteract the rising costs in the USA.  Republicans in particular have frequently called for increasing domestic oil drilling, even though research has universally concluded that this action will have virtually no effect on gas prices.  In fact, in the rise in gas prices coincided with increased domestic oil drilling in the USA.  But of course, certain American politicians don't seem to care that their claims have no factual or scientific basis.

Environmental Impacts

Before we examine the climate impacts of the tar sands, it's worth noting that they result in substantial adverse impacts to the environment in general, as is clear in  aerial photographs from Google of the region (Figure 1).

Google Tar Sands

Figure 1: 2011 Google aerial photograph of the Athabasca tar sands.  The photograph is approximately 30 miles across.  The most clearly visually impacted area is approximately 15 miles across.

Tar sands mining operations involves clearing trees and brush from a site and removing the overburden soil that sits atop the deposit.  As you can see in Figure 1, in Alberta this results in significant destruction of the boreal forest.  The mining process also requires vast amounts of water, although much of it is recycled.  However, Environment Canada found in 2010 that water quality monitoring in the region was lacking.  Some scientists have raised concerns that the tar sands may be causing aquatic life deformities downstream.  Kelly et al. (2010) found a number of pollutants downstream of the tar sands.

"Canada's or Alberta's guidelines for the protection of aquatic life were exceeded for seven [priority pollutants]—cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, silver, and zinc—in melted snow and/or water collected near or downstream of development."

Additionally, there are always concerns about environmental impacts related to potential oil spills and leaks.  On a similar pipeline, Keystone I, there were 12 spills over a period of less than a year, and a team of University of Nebraska hydrologists expressed concern over the associated risks to drinking and irrigation water supplies in the US Midwest, though which the pipeline would run.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Making liquid fuels from bitumen requires energy for steam injection and refining.  Currently the energy is produced from natural gas.  This process generates more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of final product than the production of conventional oil.

There is a slight challenge in quantifying the climate impact of tar sands oil as compared to conventional oil, because there are different ways to make this comparison.  Approximately 80% of the carbon from any barrel of crude is emitted when it's burned.  Therefore, evaluating well-to-wheel (extraction to combustion) emissions, tar sands emit approximately 10 to 45% more greenhouse gases than combustion of conventional oil.  However, if we exclude combustion and evaluate well-to-tank emissions, tar sands emissions are approximately twice those of conventional oil.  According to a recent US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assessment, tar sands well-to-tank emissions are approximately 82% higher than conventional oil.

Keystone Pipeline Emissions

The EPA also evaluated the greenhouse gas emissions specifically associated with the proposed Keystone pipeline which McKibben's group is protesting.

"recognizing the proposed Project 's lifetime is expected to be at least fifty years, we believe it is important to be clear that under at least one scenario, the extra GHG emissions associated with this proposed Project may range from 600 million to 1.15 billion tons CO2-e, assuming the lifecycle analysis holds over time"

Over 1 billion tons of equivalent CO2 emissions is a substantial chunk of emissions.  We recently discussed The Critical Decade report produced by the Climate Commission established by the Australian government.  Their report concluded that humanity can emit not more than 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 between 2000 and 2050 to have a probability of about 75% of limiting temperature rise to 2°C or less.  According to the latest data, between 2000 and 2010 we emitted approximately 300 billion tons of CO2, so after 20% of the allotted timeframe, we're already over 30% of the way through the allotted emissions.

Climate Concerns

In addition to being more emissions-intensive than conventional oil, the main concern is that exploiting the tar sands is conceptually backwards.  As The Critical Decade report made clear, we need to be looking for ways to leave fossil fuels in the ground, not trying to find more unconventional sources of carbon for combustion.  The USA in particular has taken very few concrete steps to minimize its greenhouse gas emissions to this point.  Building the Keystone pipeline to exploit an unconventional source of fossil fuels is a step in the wrong direction, and will encourage other countries to follow suit.   If we're to have any hope of achieving sufficient global greenhouse gas emissions cuts, the USA needs to start leading the way in finding ways to reduce fossil fuel consumption, not lead the way in finding ways to burn new unconventional sources, especially when they're more emissions-intensive than conventional sources.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 80:

  1. On the issue of the pipeline unfortunately the issue is more complex than people like Bill Mckibben make it out to be.

    The problem is described nicely by Bryan Walsh:
    "While blocking the Keystone XL pipeline would slow the development of oil sands, it wouldn't stop it. Oil is a fungible commodity, and if the price goes high enough—and there's little reason to expect it wouldn't—eventually Canada would sell that crude elsewhere, perhaps piping it to the west coast and shipping it to a thirsty China, even if that is more expensive and difficult than simple selling it to the U.S."

    The real solution (which admittedly is more complex and more difficult to achieve), lies on the demand side.
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  2. Everyone reading this article will also want to read the NY Times editorial, “Tar Sands and the Carbon Numbers” published on Sunday, August 21.

    To access this powerful editorial, click here.

    Dana: Perhaps you should post this editorial as a “note” to your article?
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  3. @Dan Moutal #1:

    You make an excellent point. I would also add that the Obama Administration is likely to approve the proposed Keystone pipeline because the majority of Americans will see it as a positive move.

    BTW, the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives has already passed a bill approving the proposed project.

    Sad to say but the overwhelming majority of Americans are more concerned about the price of motor fuel than they are about the negative consequences of climate change. Obama will loose in 2012 if the price of motor fuels were to steadily increase in the months leading up to the election.
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  4. Dan - I do agree that we have to address the problem from the demand side. But at least in the short-term, there's Canadian opposition to building the infrastructure to transport the tar sands oil to the Canadian west coast (hence the McKibben quote in the intro paragraph).

    If we can at least temporarily delay things from the supply side here, maybe it will give the demand side the opportunity to catch up.
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  5. "Over 1 billion tons of equivalent CO2 emissions is a substantial chunk of emissions. We recently discussed The Critical Decade report produced by the Climate Commission established by the Australian government. Their report concluded that humanity can emit not more than 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 between 2000 and 2050 to have a probability of about 75% of limiting temperature rise to 2°C or less."

    1 billion / 1 trillion = 0.1%

    Thus, I'm not sure where Hansen is getting 'game over' unless he is using very different numbers.

    Yes, not using the carbon from these tar sands would be a good thing... but in numeric terms it is ONLY 0.1% of the target limit. That's the equivalent of a couple of coal factories operating over the same timeframe.

    Also, given that shutting down the pipeline won't stop the tar sands from being used... and using the tar sands would (by these numbers) release only 0.1% of the target carbon limit... I'm inclined to think we may need to pick our battles better. Heck, if Obama could leverage SUPPORTING this pipeline into anything which reduces carbon emissions at all (which opposing this pipeline... wouldn't) then that would seem like a win to me.
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  6. Stopping this pipeline is about more than just preventing the calculated incremental production that will directly result from it. The producers have two main goals here: a) to supply diluted bitumen directly to the Gulf Coast refineries that pay a higher price than the refineries in the mid West; b) to provide diversity and excess capacity in their transportation options.

    If Obama OKs this pipeline (and I fear he will), this will provide a shot in the arm to the tar sands operators and will encourage further development. If he nixes it, on the other hand, expect the producers to dial up the pressure on British Columbia to provide additional outlets to the Pacific.

    Currently there are two main options for Pacific outlets. The most prominent option is the Northern Gateway pipeline that will run to Kitimat on BC's north coast. This pipeline is encountering much public opposition, notably from First Nations. BC public opinion is generally very negative towards the idea of having oil tankers on the north coast; a spill there would have unthinkable consequences. The other option is expanding existing pipelines to the Port of Vancouver and dredging the harbor to allow Suezmax tankers. This proposal is currently mostly under the radar of the mainstream media.

    As Dan@1 said, the best way to prevent pollution from the tar sands in the long run is to stop consumption. But until then, the only option is to try and choke off production.
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  7. @CBDunkerson#6:

    No matter how one slices it, the extraction of petroleum from the Alberta tar sands has been, is now, and will continue to be an ecological disaster for North America.
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  8. Badgersouth #7 - True. Though the steam injection method is much less destructive than the strip mining they were originally using to get at the stuff.

    Again, not using the tar sands would be a good thing... but so far as I can tell that ship has already sailed. Even if Obama blocks the pipeline AND all the other distribution options somehow fail to materialize I can guarantee you that the next Republican president in the U.S. will see to it that a pipeline gets built.

    A couple of people have suggested that delay is worthwhile to give alternatives a chance to reduce demand. There is some validity to that, but I don't see a few years delay making much difference. Certainly not a 'make or break' issue for keeping carbon emissions within manageable bounds.

    If Obama blocks the pipeline or bargains his approval for some kind of concession (e.g. investment in electric vehicle research, offsetting carbon capture, or whatever) I'd say that is pretty good for us. If he approves it without getting any offsetting benefit in return then that's a loss (and rather disappointing)... but doesn't seem catastrophic.
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  9. CBD - Hansen's comments about the tar sands being 'game over' were based on the full amount of carbon they contain, whereas the EPA estimates are based on how much oil will realistically be extracted in the next 50 years. Plus Hansen is big on 350 ppm, whereas the 1 trillion ton target is 450 ppm. So those two factors account for Hansen's "game over" comment.

    To me it's an attitude issue. As I said in the post, we need to be looking for alternatives to fossil fuels, not looking for new fossil fuel sources to burn. It's totally backwards, looking for more fossil fuels to burn instead of trying to leave as much fossil fuels in the ground as possible. The signal it sends may be the worst aspect, if the pipeline is approved by the USA's supposedly environmentally conscious president.
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  10. That google aerial photograph is just about what I saw on my last polar flight, which featured obscenely clear skies for a vast portion of the flight over the arctic (PDX to Heathrow via Seattle IIRC). Watching nothingness go by I was suddenly startled when I noticed a huge scar along a river, and it slowly dawned on me that I was seeing the alberta tar sands operation.

    The immensity of it was boggling as we were flying at close to 40K feet up ...
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  11. Thanks dana1981, that certainly explains it.

    The possibility of getting back down to 350ppm is already remote, and anything which makes gasoline powered cars viable for another 50 years would remove any chance of it.

    I agree that 'finding ways to use new sources of fossil fuels' is a major problem. I'd said as much a few weeks back when there was a report about the Japanese looking at 'mining' methane hydrates from the ocean floor. That, the tar sands, the work Russia is doing to extract methane from permafrost, and so forth are taking away the possibility that dwindling supplies will push fossil fuel costs up so much that they are no longer economically viable.

    If so, then the only real hope is to find ways to make other energy sources even less expensive.
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  12. In this particular case, it is argued that there will be an effect on gas prices because of the price divergence between Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate. Given that energy cost spike has caused a significant economic slowdown, there actually is some economic merit to the argument as James Hamilton of UCSD argues here . At current GDP levels, a price of $80 per barrel of oil is a significant negative influence on the economy and Brent has been trading substantially higher for a while.
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  13. Here's a few facts about the Alberta Oil Sands:

    - Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year.

    - At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in ends up in tailing ponds so toxic that propane cannons are used to keep ducks from landing in them.

    - Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes in Canada.

    - The toxic tailing ponds are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The ponds span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.

    - Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.

    - The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada.

    Source: "Report: Alberta Oil Sands Most Destructive Project on Earth," DeSmog Blog, Feb 18, 2008

    To access this article, click here.
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  14. To Badgersouth's statistics I would add this quote from The Economist, which highlights the staggering size of the tar sands project:
    A single engineering project, the Syncrude mine in the Athabasca tar sands, involves moving 30 billion tonnes of earth—twice the amount of sediment that flows down all the rivers in the world in a year.
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  15. I see Andy@6 covered the same point I made in 12. The chances of decreasing fossil fuel usage over the next decade are likely low. The problems facing the U.S. economy are substantial, unlike any post-WW2 recession, and occurring at a time when the world is already grappling with "peak cheap oil" and the resulting higher prices.
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  16. Here's the text of the NY Times editorial that I referenced in Badgersouth #2.

    "This page opposes the building of a 1,700-mile pipeline called the Keystone XL, which would carry diluted bitumen — an acidic crude oil — from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast. We have two main concerns: the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and the fact that the extraction of petroleum from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.

    "The Canadian government insists that it has found ways to reduce those emissions. But a new report from Canada’s environmental ministry shows how great the impact of the tar sands will be in the coming years, even with cleaner production methods.

    "It projects that Canada will double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. That rate will mean cutting down some 740,000 acres of boreal forest — a natural carbon reservoir. Extracting oil from tar sands is also much more complicated than pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. It requires steam-heating the sands to produce a petroleum slurry, then further dilution.

    "One result of this process, the ministry says, is that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020 — even as other sectors are reducing emissions. Canada still hopes to meet the overall target it agreed to at Copenhagen in 2009 — a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. If it falls short, as seems likely, tar sands extraction will bear much of the blame.

    "Canada’s government is committed to the tar sands business. (Alberta’s energy minister, Ronald Liepert, has declared, “I’m not interested in Kyoto-style policies.”) The United States can’t do much about that, but it can stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

    "The State Department will decide whether to approve or reject the pipeline by the end of the year. It has already delivered two flawed reports on the pipeline’s environmental impact. It should acknowledge the environmental risk of the pipeline and the larger damage caused by tar sands production and block the Keystone XL."
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  17. To be clear I am not in favour of the pipeline, I just think that stopping it will (unfortunately) do little to slow down the growth of the tar sands. There is just too much money to be made there (again unfortunately).

    And maybe the fact that I would prefer the oil go somewhere other than British Columbia (where I live) is biasing me a little:)

    One interesting aspect of the pipeline that I read somewhere is that many land owners in places like texas, which tend to be republicans, were very much opposed to the idea of the pipeline because of the fear of a spill. This could be one of the few areas where there could be a genuine bipartisan grass-roots support to stop the pipeline.
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  18. RB@15:
    I was pointing out what the producers' economic motives are. This absolutely does not provide a justification for building this pipeline in my opinion, since none of the externalities, GHG's or the devastation to the Athabaska area, are even considered as costs.

    Dan, I agree that stopping this project will not do much in the short term to slow down development of the tar sands. But, if KXL is stopped, over the coming decades, development growth will be constrained eventually by lack of transportation capacity. As a BC coastal resident myself, I don't want more tankers sailing through our waters either. Stopping Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan will be the next battle.
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  19. What about the producer's claim, mentioned in the NYT editorial, and which I've seen on TV commercials, that production of tar sands will not have any more emissions than conventional oil. Is it a complete myth or unrealized potential? Maybe that could be a followup post.
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  20. CBDunkerson - "If he approves it without getting any offsetting benefit in return then that's a loss (and rather disappointing)... but doesn't seem catastrophic"

    It's bizarre watching this all slowly unfold, it will all end in tears, the observations and projections make that much a certainty. But at a time when much of the southern US is in the grips of a prolonged drought.....

    ......and with much worse US drought yet to unfold as the global climate warms, American politicians want to make things even worse? Utter madness.
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  21. Dan M#17: "many land owners in places like texas ... were very much opposed to the idea of the pipeline because of the fear of a spill."

    There are significant spill concerns up and down this pipeline, not just in Texas. See this post in grist; the author has a legal point of view on environmental issues in the US midwest.
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  22. RobP#20: "much of the southern US is in the grips of a prolonged drought....."

    Look at the global drought monitor here. Canada has drought problems of its own. Welcome to the new normal (or will the next new normal make this one look like a day in the park?)
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  23. @ Rob & muoncounter

    Just a coming attraction for the really big shoe:

    Current Palmer Drought Severity Index [PDSI] 2060-2069. A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought. Regions that are blue or green will likely be at lower risk of drought, while those in the red and purple spectrum could face more unusually extreme drought conditions. (Courtesy University Corporation for Atmospheric Research [UCAR])

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  24. DB#23: "A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought."

    So if red (-4) is 'extreme', purple (-6- -8) must be 'biblical' and the light violet 'kiss your a$$ goodbye'?
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  25. Given the laws of chemistry and physics, there is no plausible way that GHG emissions from the non-conventional resources, such as tar sands, can be less than that from conventional oil. Unless of course, you are going to capture and sequester the carbon from tar sands but not conventional oil resources. The entire IPCC 4th Assessment assumes most of these resources remain in the ground.

    Mitigating the impacts of global warming is overwhelmingly a political issue. While the science is critically important to make sure we make the best public policy decisions, it is of second order importance right now. As the science has advanced and narrowed the uncertainty we are dealing with (and will continue to do so), GHG emissions have continued to accelerate.

    The tar sands is an excellent organizing opportunity for several reasons. First, the decision-maker is the President-he can personally decide the fate of this pipeline. The question is whether he will "man up". Although disapproval of the pipeline cannot stop other ways of getting tar sands to available markets, it can send a powerful statement to China and the rest of the world that the United States is ready to leave (its been a long time coming). A Presidential decision denying the pipeline could start to generate some momemntum for Durban, South Africa. China has signaled its willingness to consider a price on carbon that automatically increases annually at a signficant amount, bilaterally reach a deal to set a price with China, let countries decide for themselves if they get to the price with a tax or cap and trade.

    Third, use the organizing effort to start to build a coalition of some non-traditional allies (farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, etc.) in traditional red regions of the nation.

    But more importantly, use this opportunity to reframe the debate on global warming and make it an election issue. The scientific debate is over-human use of dirty coal and oil is causing global warming. Global warming is already increasing the severity of floods, droughts, heat waves, and other extreme weather around the world. Thus, the U.S. will lead the world in transforming our energy and economic system to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of global warming. This generation has a moral obligation to our children and grandchildren to make the world a place where every individual has the opportunity to inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of hapiness. The U.S. will harness its innovative spirit and ethic of hard work to become the world's leader in the necessary technologies. In doing so, we will rebuild the middle class by creating family wage jobs, increase revenues to balance the budget over the coming decade, etc. We will also mobilize all of our resources, including the military to combate climate change and minimize the geopolitical instability that unaddressed global warming will cause.

    I know this is wishful thinking, but we are already committed to warming of at least 2 degrees C (if we eliminated all GHG emissions today). Humanity is now in a race to draw the line somewhere between 2-3 degrees (and that is assuming the earth's feedbacks cut humanity a break).
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  26. @mreisner #25:

    Kudos on a very well written post.
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  27. The tar sands will be developed. Whether the oil is shipped to the US or a foreign market doesn't matter. The deamand is there for that oil.
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  28. There is a widespread assumption promoted by industry that the Keystone Pipeline is all about tar sands oil for America. My investigations suggest that's not the case at all. It is about exports from the landlocked tar sands via the Gulf to Europe ...and maybe elsewhere.

    Keystone XL: A Pipeline to Europe?>
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  29. Stephen:
    It is also anticipated to send Bakken crude south as well.
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  30. @dmyerson - tar sands emissions on well to wheel basis are significantly higher. According to NRDC: "Replacing 3 mbd day of conventional oil with tar sands oil would be equivalent to adding more than 22 million passenger cars to the roads."

    According to the State Department GHG emissions from the tar sands are at least 20% higher. However they did not look at the land use change - ie trashing the boreal forest. (Pers comm)
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  31. Camburn, the question is what proportion of the tar sands remains in the ground and how much we put in the air. Yes, the demand is there for the oil but that demand will diminish if we make the price high enough, through carbon taxes or emissions caps.

    As mreisner said, it's a political choice.

    Some recently announced policies in Canada require any new coal-fired electricity generation projects to have the same GHG emissions profiles as natural gas plants. This means that new coal power stations in Canada will need carbon capture and storage. If only the same could be done for new tar sands operations: require them to have the same GHG profile as a light oil operation. That wouldn't be good enough but at least it's a step in the right direction.
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  32. Stephen:
    And they won't. President Obamma's economic policies have been such a dismal failure that he is clinging to anything in the hopes that he will get re-elected.

    He would have been much more sucessful had he read all of Keynesian's theory. You can't borrow money to stimulate without long term negative effects. You can use reserve funds.......(cash on hand)...and it works well.

    Anyways....the economy will dictate the immediate future.
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  33. Andy S:
    There will not be a carbon tax, at least in the USA in the forseable future. Most people now understand where the idea was started and a loath to have anything to do with it.
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  34. Camburn, you are probably correct about the chances for a carbon tax in the US. But its not because the US electorate has a good understanding of economics and climate science, rather the opposite, unfortunately. For example, there are front-running presidential candidates who claim that they can suspend the laws of economics (Bachmann's $2 gas promise) and physics (Perry praying for rain).
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  35. A couple of clips from Al Jazeera on the Alberta tar sands. The Kelly (2010) study, mentioned in Dana's post, features prominently. Bill McKibben pops up too.

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  36. To amplify the point made by Andy S, I highly recommend:

    "Republican Presidential Candidates on Climate Change" by Timothy Hurst posted Aug 22 on Ecopolitology.

    The caricatures of the candidates done for the Hurst article are a hoot!
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  37. I trust the opinions of the experts who are saying things like it would be the equivalent of lighting a fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.

    Or that we are now looking at 2-3 C, maybe 4 C, before any serious CO2 reductions.

    So is the Keystone XL approval the signal to go ahead and focus on mitigation? Does it mark the moment when the AGW community increases their focus on helping people survive?

    (I'm curious about such things, and I don't see much written about mitigating the effects of AGW. Perhaps I look in the wrong places.)
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  38. Badger,

    Thanks for that link. I especially liked Palin's hair.

    I feel that climate change will only be an issue in the coming election with regards to its impacts on the economy. I echo Canburn's statement that a carbon tax has virtually no chance of passage, especially in this economy in an election year.
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  39. @noble_serf #37:

    An excellent primer on climate change mitigation and adaptation is posted on Climate Change Economics. You should give it a careful read.

    The title of the post is “Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: What's the difference, and how do they relate to each other?”

    You can access it by clicking here
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  40. @noble_serf #37:

    You’ll also want to check out the Climate Change Library of the Climate Change Economics website. The library is chocked full of good stuff about climate change adaptation and mitigation.
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  41. Unexpectedly, this post has been re-published by The Guardian.
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  42. Tipping Point The Oil sands... great arial videos..
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  43. @noble_serf #37: On Adapatation

    In a four-degree warmer world, adaptation means "put your feet up and die" for many people in the world, Oxford's Chris West said.

    Adaptation is expensive, difficult (don't know how or what is coming or when ) and impossible in many situations.

    FYI Mitigation means reduction in emissions ie no Keystone.
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  44. More frightening facts about the Alberta tar sands...

    Deposits of thick, tarry bitumin underlie about 140,000 square kilometers of northeastern Alberta, an area about the size of the state of Florida.

    Producing synthetic crude from tar sands requires natural gas to heat water for steam to separate the oil from the sand. Tar sands operations currently use about .6 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. By 2012, that level is expected to rise to two billion cubic feet a day, more than all the gas available from the Mackenzie Gas Project to the north.

    The process water is discharged into growing toxic tailings ponds already the size of the city of Vancouver

    Source: "222 Arrested at White House Sit-ins Against Tar Sands Pipeline", ENS, Aug 23, 2011

    To access this in-depth article, click here.
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  45. Global warming is a consumption problem and not a production problem. The truth is that the genie is already out of the bottle. Stopping the oil sands will not save the planet for the following reasons;

    1. Stopping the oil sands detracts from the real issue; the need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels.
    2. OPEC oil is not green. Enough natural gas is flared and vented to provide the total annual natural gas consumption of Germany and France.
    Global Standard to Reduce Gas Flaring Unveiled in Algeria
    3. Litigation will probably only temporarily delay the pipeline to export oil sands oil to Asian markets. Using the oil from the oil sands in North America and Eastern hemisphere oil in the Eastern hemisphere will mean less oil being transported by supertanker overseas and less risk of oil spills.
    4. Contrary to other claims, the oil sands will not lead to the use of oil shale. The oil sands have enough oil to supply North America for the rest of this century. If we were in danger of depleting the oil sands in the next 20 years, I would agree that they would be a gateway drug to oil shale, but this is not the case.
    5. Stopping the oil sands could lead to shortages of oil. That may be the idea as a shortage would be the only way that stopping the oil sands could reduce consumption. However, a shortage of oil will lead to a back lash, and it will be political suicide for any politician not to talk like the Republicans are talking today.
    6. Many people who support the fight against global warming make their living extracting oil from the oil sands. A hostile attitude to the oli sands could alienate these people.
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  46. jyushchyshyn - the world isn't black and white like that. Of course consumption is the main problem, but when we start to produce unconventional fossil fuels with higher carbon emissions intensity, that's a problem too.
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  47. No, the world is not black and white like that. It is the environmentalists and the extreme right who see the world in black and white terms. Personally, I would prefer to see the pipeline to Asian markets not be built. Have two way tanker traffic in the Pacific Ocean is an oil spill waiting to happen. In addition, the government of Alberta has been far to lenient in allowing oil sands operators to drag their feet in both greenhouse gas emissions and in dealing with the tailings issue.

    As CBDunkerson said, "If Obama blocks the pipeline or bargains his approval for some kind of concession (e.g. investment in electric vehicle research, offsetting carbon capture, or whatever) I'd say that is pretty good for us." Perhaps such a deal could include a ban on overseas exports of such synthetic crude, as well as firm deadlines to deal with the tailings and greenhouse gas emissions. it is the Asian markets which have virtually unlimited growth potential.

    As Camburn said, "The deamand is there for that oil." If there is a market for anything, someone will find a way to supply it. If we deal with consumption, that will take care of the demand for the oil. If there is no demand for the oil, no one will produce it.
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  48. jyushchyshyn - please let's refrain from making gross generalizations of large groups like "environmentalists". Especially inaccurate generalizations.

    There's no reason we can't address the demand side issue while simultaneously at least delaying the exploitation of the tar sands. If we can delay it long enough, perhaps we can decrease demand sufficiently in the meantime such that by the time the tar sands oil can be transported, the demand will no longer be sufficient.

    China is working on a carbon cap and trade system, and eventually the USA will have a carbon pricing system, which would raise the cost of the carbon-intense tar sands oil and thus decrease the demand. And if we delay long enough, maybe Canada will elect a government that gives a damn about the environment as well.
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  49. On the bad news front...

    "The State Department will remove a major roadblock to construction of a massive oil pipeline stretching from Canada to Texas when it releases its final environmental assessment of the project as soon as Friday, according to sources briefed on the process."

    Source: "State Department review to find pipeline impact ‘limited,’ sources say," Washington Post, Aug 24, 2011

    To access the complete article, click here.
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  50. Thanks to Stephen Leahy and Badgersouth for the links and terminology correction.

    I've also been reading over at where they have a collection of great reports. Like this one Preparing for
    the public health challenges of climate change (PDF)
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