Oil sands climate change impacts

Climate Change Impacts

Climate change is recognised by many to be planet Earth's greatest threat. Whilst governments assure us of their attempts to help mitigate that threat, in Alberta, Canada, the development of the tar sands renders all such attempts futile.

The development of the Canadian tar sands alone will push atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations beyond a level that the planet can cope with. If all of the permits for extraction that have already been granted by the Canadian government were fulfilled, we will see a hike in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels that would push us beyond a catastrophic 'tipping point'.

Current atmospheric CO2 levels are about 430 parts per million (ppm).

In line with Kyoto targets, we need to stabilise atmospheric CO2 levels at 450 ppm to give us some hope of preventing global temperatures rising more than 2 degrees celcius, beyond which it is thought we would experience unpredictable and irreversible climate change and a new global mass extinction event.

The Canadian Kyoto target is to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 6% by 2012 compared to 1990 levels.  In 2006, its emissions were 27% above 1990 levels, with 20% coming from the the tar sands of Alberta.(2)

If the Canadian tar sands expansion goes ahead at the rate currently projected, they would account for 87% of the maximum allowable emissions from OECD countries in 2050 if we were to stabilise at 450 ppm (2).

28.6 kg of CO2 is emitted in the production of a conventional barrel of oil, compared to 85.5 kg CO2 for a barrel of oil produced from the tar sands (2).

Canada is estimated to contain 11% of the world's terrestrial carbon sinks, primarily in the boreal forest.  Extraction of oil from the tar sands beneath the forest results in the release of this carbon into the atmosphere. This is not usually 'counted' when estimates are provided for the carbon cost of tar sands extraction, which tends to refer only to the amount of energy needed to extract the oil.