A new analysis reveals that oil extracted from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands will release as much as 20% more carbon into the atmosphere than gasoline and diesel extracted in the U.S.
According to a June 26 Vice report, the additional carbon impact of Canadian oil is largely a result of the extra energy needed to extract and refine this oil.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, the University of California, Davis, and Stanford University looked at public data from 27 of Canada’s largest oil sands production facilities to reveal this information.
Over the last 10 years, global proved oil reserves have grown by more than 350 billion barrels — a never-before-seen 27% increase. A good portion of these reserves have come from the oil-rich tar sands of Canada. However, this oil’s higher carbon output could put an end to drilling activity in oil sands, as environmentalists rally against one of the dirtiest sources of fuel.
“This is important information about the greenhouse gas impact of this oil source, and this is the first time it has been made available at this level of fidelity,” lead author and Argonne researcher Hao Cai said. “Canadian oil sands accounted for about 9% of the total crude processed in U.S. refineries in 2013, but that percentage is projected to rise to 14% in 2020.”
Drilling oil from tar sands is much more energy-intensive than other forms of oil production due to the fact that the oil must be separated from the sand using huge amounts of heat. The deeper an oil deposit lies within the earth, the more energy must be used to pump heat underground. Canadian tar sands oil, as a result, has a carbon intensity that’s 8 – 24% higher than conventional crude oil from the U.S.
Given the surprising carbon output of Canadian oil sand extraction, U.S. policy makers will need to develop a plan that will allow for the country’s energy needs to be met while minimizing oil’s environmental impact.