Canadian Consulting Engineer

Oil sands emissions stack up against conventional crude

August 17, 2009
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

According to the Government of Alberta, two independent studies have found that the direct emissions from oil ...

According to the Government of Alberta, two independent studies have found that the direct emissions from oil sands production are roughly the same as those for producing other crude oils.

Released on July 23, the Life-Cycle Analysis of North American and Imported Crude Oils was based on studies by Jacobs Consultancy and TIAX LLC, two U.S.-based consulting companies. The research was funded by the Alberta Energy Research Institute.

The studies took into account direct emissions from producing, transporting and refining oil sands crude.  According to the Government of Alberta news release, the researchers found “that direct greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands are generally about 10 per cent higher than direct emissions from other crudes in the U.S.” But, “if cogeneration is taken into consideration, oil sands crudes would be similar to conventional crudes in terms of GHG emissions.”

The range of emissions was based on several factors, including location, reservoir depth, oil characteristics and production technology.


Dr. Eddy Isaacs, executive director of the Alberta Energy Research Institute, said that new technologies will be developed that will improve the scenario for oil sands even more: “One of the key considerations is that emissions from the oil sands will continue to decline as new technologies continue to be field tested and commercialized.”

In response to the findings, the Pembina Institute issued a statement the same day, criticizing the report for including in the comparison countries like Nigeria. “Despite looking at oil producing regions like Nigeria that have few if any environmental standards and poor operating practices like gas flaring, the studies still found that on average, oil sands production has higher greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than lowering the bar by comparing oil sands to other pollution-intensive sources of oil, we should be assessing how the oil sands compare with technologies like advanced biofuels and electric vehicles.”


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