Friday, November 1, 2013

The Tar Sands Have Higher Emissions Profiles than Previously Thought

It is widely known that the tar sands are the most destructive sources of greenhouse gases on the planet. Te European Commission has determined that on a well to wheels basis, tar sands emissions are 23 percent worse than fuel from conventional crude. According to two new reports they may be even more harmful than previously thought.

The first report is titled Petroleum Coke: The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands indicates that previous assessments of the environmental impacts fail to account for a high-carbon byproduct of the refining process. The other study was conducted by the Pembina Institute and it is titled The Climate Implications of the Proposed Keystone XL Oilsands Pipeline.

This study shows how the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would accelerate expansion of the tar sands and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Tar sands contains bitumen which is 24 percent more carbon rich than conventional light oil. It is removed and converted during the refining process into a solid fuel called petroleum coke or “petcoke,” which is not factored into the emissions assessments. Petcoke yields on average 53.6 percent more CO2 than a ton of coal.

Petcoke is one of the cheapest and dirtiest fuels on the market selling at 25 percent less than coal. Petcoke is commonly mixed in with coal as the low price provides a powerful market incentives. This also makes it harder for cleaner forms of energy to compete in an open marketplace.

US refineries produced more than 61.5 million tons of petcoke in 2011, most of which is exported. Petcoke is also used in coal plants. When petcoke is factored into the Keystone XL equation, it emits 13 percent more CO2 than indicated by the U.S. State Department's assessment. The petcoke produced from the Keystone XL pipeline would fuel 5 coal plants and produce 16.6 million metric tons of CO2 each year.

In response to these two reports, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman made the following statement: “The new reports show that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is the key that will unlock the tar sands. If the pipeline is approved, the world will face millions more tons of carbon pollution each year for decades to come. After Hurricane Sandy, devastating drought, unprecedented wildfires and the warmest year on record in the United States, we know that climate change is happening now, we have to fight it now, and we must say no to this pollution pipeline now.”

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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