Tar Sands Oil – One of the Dirtiest Fuels on the Planet
Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil due to the energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The rapid increase in the development of carbon-intensive, unconventional oil “could tip the scales” towards dangerous and uncontrollable climate change.
If we are going to get serious about climate change, opening the spigot to a pipeline that will export up to 830,000 barrels of the dirtiest oil on the planet to foreign markets stands as a bad idea,” said Anthony Swift of the Natural Resources Defense Council.“
NASA climate scientist James Hansen has warned that continued tar sands mining would be ‘essentially game over’ for the climate.
Yet, despite concerns about climate change and environmental destruction brought about from tar sands oil, more than half the Senate on Wednesday urged quick approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ramping up pressure on President Barack Obama to move ahead with the project just days after he promised in his inaugural address to respond vigorously to the threat of climate change.
In addition to concerns over runaway climate change, tar sands oil is one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. Here’s what you need to know:
- The proposed pipeline would stretch 2000 miles from Alberta, Canada to Texas, threatening to contaminate freshwater supplies in America’s agricultural heartland and increase refinery emissions in already-polluted communities of the U.S. Gulf Coast
- Oil sands mining uses twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year. It takes three barrels of water to extract one gallon of oil.
- At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends in tailing ponds full of harmful substances like cyanide and ammonia, which has worked its way into neighboring clean water supplies.
- Tar sands oil extraction has led to the stripmining of the boreal forest, a natural carbon reservoir home to the rare and threatened woodland caribou and the nesting ground for millions of the ducks and songbirds that wing their way over the United States every year.
- Indigenous populations in Alberta are most affected. Communities living downstream from tailing ponds have seen spikes in rates of rare cancers, renal failure, lupus, and hyperthyroidism. In the lakeside village of Fort Chipewyan, for example, 100 of the town’s 1,200 residents have died from cancer.
- Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes.
- There is a high probability of spills. TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline has spilled a dozen times in less than a year of operation. In summer 2010, a million gallons of tar sands oil poured into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from a pipeline run by another Canadian company, Enbridge.
- Refining tar sands oil is dirtier than refining conventional oil, and results in higher emissions of toxic sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. These emissions cause smog and acid rain and contribute to respiratory diseases like asthma. Communities near the refineries where the Keystone XL pipeline would terminate, many of them low-income and communities of color, already live with dangerously high levels of air pollution.
- 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.
Obama Can Stop This
The Obama administration has twice thwarted the 1,700-mile pipeline, proposed in 2008 by Calgary-based TransCanada, despite pressure from Congress to approve it. This is one action the president can take without approval by the House and Senate.
Investing in tar sands oil now will delay investments in clean and safe alternatives to oil, such as better fuel economy requirements, plug-in electric cars fueled by solar power, and smart growth and public transportation infrastructure that give Americans choices other than cars.
President’s Day Rally
Join EJC in DC on February for the Forward on Climate rally. We need to tell the president he must continue to oppose Keystone XL oil pipeline and take immediate action to solve the climate crisis. We can create jobs with clean energy – such as wind and solar. This not only will put life back into our economy, but also protect our planet from one of the most carbon-intensive fuels in existence.
Click for details on the rally …