October 2, 2009

Tar sands’ greenhouse gas emissions underestimated, report claims

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The amount of greenhouse gases to be unleashed in converting Alberta’s tar sands into useable energy has been seriously underestimated, according to a new report by environmentalists.

Out in the last hour or so on the Edmonton Journal’s site is a seven-paragraph story by the Financial Post on a report that says official estimates of the emissions fail to take into account that oil companies are knocking down a whole lot of boreal forest in the process. The forest stores tons — literally — of carbon.

The Financial Post says the report was done by Global Forest Watch Canada, and we were able to located a Sept. 23 report (PDF) that appears to be the subject of the story. Quoting from page 13:

 The bituminous sands Surface Mineable Area totals 488,968 (hectares) of northern Alberta’s boreal ecosystems. In addition to surface mining, in situ bitumen production will occur over a projected area of 13,553,246 ha (Oil Sands Administration Area minus the Surface Mineable Area), although the availability of the entire area for bitumen industrial activities may change. Few, if any, of the biocarbon emissions resulting from land use change caused by the bituminous sands industrial activities in these areas are reported.

The whole report pretty much reads that way. It looks like a well-documented review of all the greenhouse gas emissions to be expected from mining the tar sands, aka the oil sands. It goes on to blame the counting rules of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among other factors, for the undercounting.

No response from the industry in what’s on the web so far. Of course, the oil companies may still be busy putting together plans due to the government saying how they’re going to make their massive tailings ponds less toxic.

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