Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Harper's Dirty Little Tar Sands Warning

Steve Harper has been warned - the Athabasca Tar Sands pose a "significant environmental and financial risk" to Alberta.

That warning came in a secret report prepared for Wayne Routers, the clerk of the Privy Council Office, the federal government's top civil servant.

The industry has suggested that a shift in oilsands extraction to use steam to remove synthetic crude oil from natural bitumen deposits on site can reduce land disruption and provide for reductions in energy and emissions. But the memo, prepared for Wayne Wouters, the clerk of the Privy Council Office — the lead department in the federal government's bureaucracy — said this shift is actually accelerating the industry's impact on climate change, with emissions growth projected to be greater over the next decade than all other Canadian economic sectors combined.

"While the industry has taken steps to reduce emissions, the shift from mining to in-situ production, which is almost three times as emissions intensive as mining, is resulting in a continued acceleration of emissions from this sector," said the memo.

"The industry's approach to tailings, meanwhile, has been widely criticized, including in a recent Royal Society of Canada report, as representing a significant environmental and financial risk to the province of Alberta."

The memo to Wouters noted the oilsands sector extracted six billion barrels in its first 40 years of commercial production, from 1967 to 2007, while it is expected to match that total production in the coming decade. It said this rapid growth "has shed light on the significant environmental challenges associated with this economically important sector," including the greenhouse gas emissions, tailings management, and habitat degradation and loss.

"The oilsands are the fastest-growing source of GHG emissions in Canada," said the memo to Wouters. "According to Environment Canada's emissions trends, emissions from the oil-and-gas sector could increase by 30 per cent between 2005 and 2020, driven by a more than 200 per cent increase in emissions from the oilsand sectors. By 2020, oilsands GHG emissions could total 92 million tonnes a year, up from about 31 in 2005. This increase of 61 million tonnes is greater than the projected emissions growth for all other sectors combined."

Harper has had this report since March of last year.

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