Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Putting a Number on the Tar Sands

The US Conference of Mayors annual meeting came up with a great idea - tracking the "life cycle impact" of various fossil fuels. They also passed a resolution urging member municipalities to stop using unconventional fuels with lage carbon footprints. The resolution specifically referenced Canada's Tar Sands:

"The production of tarsands oil from Canada emits approximately three times the carbon dioxide pollution per barrel as does conventional oil production and significantly damages Canada's Boreal forest ecosystem - the world's largest carbon storehouse."

You see, once you factor in the carbon footprint of various fossil fuels - assign a number to them - it's an easy process to translate that into any of several forms of carbon tariffs.

Alberta's Tar Sands have always benefitted from the "out of sight/out of mind" syndrome. They're way up north where few Albertans live. People don't have to see them if they don't want to. That, I suspect, is a key reason why Big Oil and the Alberta government have been able to get away with the environmental destruction the Tar Sands necessitate. Whenever someone does complain they're rebuffed with the same old assurances about new technologies being just around the corner, an excuse that's then put back in the bottom drawer until the next time it's needed.

A carbon tariff by end user markets might give Big Oil and the Alberta government the big, swift kick in the ass they've needed to actually make those promised new technologies a reality. You simply make it more expensive for them not to clean themselves up. They say they can do it. It's time they did.

Kudos to the US Conference of Mayors. They just might have pointed to the right path to curbing tar sands pollution.


Anonymous said...

I suggest that you teach them a lesson and stop using their product. No seriously just quit using their product all together. That will show them.

LeDaro said...

I heard about the story yesterday on CNN. Good for these mayors. Tar Sands is a mess and literally a black spot on Canada and environment.

The Mound of Sound said...

Nice try, Anon 11:52, except that you forget that the tar sands production is targeted to the American market. It's not a facile matter of not using gasoline, it's the very legitimate point of forcing these operators to act responsibly and bring in pollution controls - just what they've been promising to do, over and over, for years. Or do you think that's a bad idea?

Dante said...

Looking at life cycle emissions, oil sands emit 10% more C02 than Arab Oil. Carbon sequestration will likely bring it to a lower level than Arab Oil.
This issue has nothing at all to do with "pollution" levels. It has to do with going after a boogey man.

The Mound of Sound said...

It's one thing to claim that, Dante, quite another to back it up. Give us a reference to show this. And please tell us just how well carbon sequestration is going? The Americans have just scrapped their major demonstration project. When do you foresee carbon sequestration coming online in Athabasca? Which one of the oil giants up there is currently constructing such a facility or will be next year or the year after that? And what, pray tell, is going on with land reclamation and those lovely tailing lakes?

But let's just begin with your 10%"life cycle emissions" claim. Surely something as terrific as that would have been howled to the rafters by Big Oil - if there was anything to it. Special Ed hisself would be making the rounds proclaiming just how wonderfully clean Athabasca's tar sands oil truly is. Except Big Oil isn't making that claim, neither is Stelmach. Only you, Dante, only you.

Anonymous said...

No I am quite serious about you not using their product. If all of the people in the world who claim they care about the environment stopped using oil then the price would fall to less than $40-$50 per barrel. Below that price the tar sands are not profitable. So I say it again if you are serious about saving the planet stop using their product.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, I don't believe for a second that you're serious, that is assuming you're sane. As you well know, our society's dependence on fossil fuels is absolute. We've built our entire way of life around it.

Like any addict, you don't go cold turkey on this problem. That'll kill you. Instead you gradually wean yourself off. That might entail cutting consumption initially, perhaps shifting to clean sources of energy as they come online and, in the meantime, putting the screws to those assholes who are generating the environmental disaster we call the tar sands until they finally, after year upon year of promises, shovel a bit of their considerable profits into cleaning up their operations. By that I mean not only GHG but the associated air, soil and water pollution. That's where we need to get serious, Anon. That's what those who really care about the environment understand is the most effective and entirely necessary way of going about tackling the problems.

David Wozney said...

Re: “... emits approximately three times the carbon dioxide pollution ...

Carbon dioxide emissions are not pollution. Carbon dioxide released by man near ground level is heavier than air and sinks in air relatively quickly rather than rising up to the upper atmosphere to become a so-called greenhouse gas in the upper atmosphere. While sinking, it stratifies from air; after sinking and stratifying, it tends to remain close to the ground. The carbon dioxide can then dissolve in soil water or alternatively it may find its way down to low-lying water bodies or down to ocean level where it can readily mix and dissolve in water or react with water to form weak carbonic acid. Carbon dioxide is also removed immediately from the lower atmosphere by rainfall.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries A.D., many measurements of the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide were higher than present-day carbon dioxide measurements and there was no runaway greenhouse-gas global warming effect.

The Mound of Sound said...

David, every now and then when someone posts a ludicrous statement I like to see what they've posted on their own blog. I checked yours out. You dispute the existance of dinosaurs and leave instructions for those of us who will be left behind after you're swept up in The Rapture, and proclaim that the Appolo moon missions were a hoax. You go on at some length about how, since 1867, the British North America Act has stipulated that authority over Canada be vested in the "Queen." So were the Kings mere interlopers?

You're a nutjob Davey, a complete and utter loon. P.S. The Rapture is now scheduled for 8 a.m. tomorrow on the centre lane of the 401 but only the blindfolded will be accepted. Good luck pal.

Anonymous said...

One of Earth's most important natural resources is its atmosphere. The atmosphere contains air without which plants and animals could not survive. It contains greenhouse gases which keep the planet naturally warmer than it would be otherwise, maintaining an average global temperature above freezing that allows water to exist in its liquid state, a necessary condition for most life. If mankind is to protect and preserve this unique natural resource for future generations as well as other ecosystems, it must continue to address the problem of air pollution which affects the atmosphere from the local to the global scale.

Air Pollution and concern about air quality are not new. Complaints were recorded in the 13th century when coal was first used in London. Since the middle of the 19th century, the atmosphere of the major British cities was regularly polluted by coal smoke in winter, giving rise to an infamous mixture of fog and smoke known as smog.

In the 1970s the transboundary effects of industrial air pollution become known as acid rain. Acid rain is a widespread term used to describe all forms of acid precipitation such as rain and snow. Atmospheric pollutants, particularly oxides of sulphur and nitrogen react with water in the atmosphere to form sulphuric and nitric acid, causing precipitation to become more acidic when converted to sulphuric and nitric acids, hence the term acid rain. Acid deposition, acid rain and acid precipitation all relate to the chemistry of air pollution and moisture in the atmosphere. Scientists generally use the term acid deposition but all three terms relate to the same issue.

Acid rain is particularly harmful to vegetation as the acid in the rain changes the pH of the soil and leeches away important minerals. The amount of acid rain that an ecosystem can tolerate is known as its critical load. After the sulphuric and nitric acids have formed in the atmosphere, they can travel long distances with the wind before being deposited. In fact, much of the acid rain found in Scandinavia originated from the UK. In response to these problems, a number of agreements, including the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (Geneva, 1979), have set out to reduce acid rain.

Although acid rain remains an international concern, poor air quality in cities is now considered to be a more pressing environmental problem. Today poor air quality can be mainly attributed to the production and consumption of energy, industrial processes and road transport. The main pollutants associated with poor air quality are sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulates (PM10), and volatile organic compound (VOCs). These pollutants can lead to respiratory problems, particularly amongst the young and elderly.

Transport in particular is becoming an increasing source of air pollution. The transport related problems experienced now are likely to worsen according to the projected increase in traffic. Individually, a vehicle engine is not a particularly important source of pollution. Collectively however, vehicles represent a major source of air pollution in the UK and throughout the world. The best way to reduce the threat of air pollution is to use cleaner fuel and less of it, and to adopt more sustainable modes of transportation. A. Morris