Tar Sands Bull CAPP

Written by Brant Olson

Topics: Oil

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Yesterday we announced a new campaign with Lush Cosmetics to get the word out on tar sands at more than 100 LUSH stores in the US and Canada. Today, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) weighed in with a press release (“God’s work”, they say) claiming that we “blur the line between fact and fiction.” A shocking assertion!

It’s the same  mantra CAPP offers just about every time the industry’s challenged.  They thought an ad placed in Variety Magazine was “blurring of the lines between fact and fiction.” They called a spoof video game by Polaris “inaccurate“.  They challenged Al Gore invoking interest in a discussion “based on scientific facts.

Trouble is, CAPP won’t dispute our facts. Not one! We even asked CAPP to defend their blurry assertion and take us on point-for-point, as we have occasionally done with the Government of Alberta.  No dice. Canada’s oil industry would rather lob accusations than discuss substance.

No matter!  We’ll keep dishing out the facts and look forward to a rebuttal in the comments.

  1. Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year. The water requirements for oil sands projects range from 2.5 to 4.0 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced.
  2. At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in tailing lakes so toxic that propane cannons and floating scarecrows are used to keep ducks from landing in them.
  3. A 2003 report concluded that “an accident related to the failure of one of the oil sands tailings ponds could have catastrophic impact in the aquatic ecosystem of the Mackenzie River Basin due to the size of these lakes and their proximity to the Athabasca River.”
  4. In April, 2008 a flock of migrating ducks landed on a tar sands toxic lake and died.
  5. Processing the oil sands uses enough natural gas in a day to heat 3 million homes in Canada. Natural gas requirements for the oil sands industry are projected to increase substantially during the projected period from 17 million cubic metres (0.6 billion cubic feet) per day in 2003 to a range of 40 to 45 million cubic metres (1.4 to 1.6 billion cubic) feet per day in 2015.
  6. The toxic tailing lakes are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The toxic lakes in Northern Alberta span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.
  7. Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil. In 2004, oil sands production surpassed 160 000 cubic metres (one million barrels) per day; by 2015, oil sands production is expected to more than double to about 340 000 cubic metres (2.2 million barrels) per day.
  8. The oil sands operations are the fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas in Canada. By 2020 the oil sands will release twice the amount produced currently by all the cars and trucks in Canada.
  9. The Alberta Oil Sands Operation are the largest single point source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
  10. By 2015, the Alberta Oil Sands are expected to emit more greenhouse gases than the nation of Denmark (pop. 5.4 million).

Hat tip to Desmogblog for pulling these together with sources. For more fun facts and materials visit ran.org/tarsands

Update: Responses to comments follow

David! Steve! Welcome to the Understory. Thanks for taking the invitation for a rebuttal.

To David’s point, the fact above came from Canada’s National Energy Board in 2003.  Not sure where your numbers come from David, but unfortunately the NEB numbers are the latest Government data we could find–and that’s a problem. Government doesn’t have the data that it needs to manage water impacts of tar sands development.

Steaming oil out of the ground through in-situ isn’t a solution to the water problem in the tar sands by far. Canada’s Pembina Institute has done some of the best work on this point. Below is a chart from their recent report card on In-Situ water use. Current and proposed projects could withdraw more than 15% of the Athabasca River’s water flow during its lowest flow periods, reducing the availability of fish habitat threatening health of the river’s ecosystem .

Water use by in-situ tar sands mines

As for Steve’s comment, we’re really just comparing dueling statistics. As I’ve stated before, you have to compare apples to apples. Emissions from transit grew 36% 1990-2008 while emissions from Oil and Gas extraction grew 285%. And transit is now trending down with -.5% growth in emissions ’07 to ’08. Compare that to an increase of 2.9% from oil and gas (http://bit.ly/bTVZ1L). And that was during a downturn! NEB expects tar sands oil production to jump 11% this year (http://is.gd/bp7jW) and you can bet emissions will too.

4 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Brant, some people can take a level, analytical look at issues they instinctively are inclined to prejudge but resist doing so, others are going to seize on slogans and talking points and cannot wrap their minds around any context, consideration or outright proof to the contrary.

    I believe you and I have “conversed” previously on most of the claims you again repeat above. It has always been my hope that beyond arguing what’s fact and what’s not, that you would come to realize how serious we are about ever improving and lessening our environmental footprint in oil sands development. (This is our local environment, after all, one we as Albertans and Canadians cherish.) To make another stab at that, let’s just look at your very first point: “The water requirements for oil sands projects range from 2.5 to 4.0 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced.”

    No, that was years ago: The range is now down as low as quarter of a barrel, and the average for in situ operators – drilling rather than mining – is one half of a barrel.

    I use this example for two reasons, Brant. One, it illustrates the constant improvement I wish you would recognize. And, two, I suspect you’ll find some reason to cling to your incorrect and outdated talking point anyway, as you do with the other nine.

    By the way, any readers interested in the other nine talking points, we discuss those in the desmogblog post which Brant has linked.

    - David Sands, Government of Alberta

  2. Steve C says:

    I do not dispute points 8 through 10 relating to green house gas emissions; however, I would like to put them in perspective. According to Environment Canada, the Alberta Oil Sands are responsible for just under 5% of all Canadian GHG emissions, a figure that will rise to 8% by 2015. Eliminate all Alberta oils sands activity and our nation’s GHG emissions will not be reduced significantly, now or in 2015. More stiking than this is that the oil sands GHG emissions are less than 0.1% of the worldwide total. Elimination of all oil sands activity will not have any impact on worldwide GHG emissions.

    Finally, the majority of new oil sands development will utilize insitu recovery methods. Insitu does not utilize tailings ponds and close to 95% of water used is recycled. 90% of fresh water used in mining operations may end up in tailings ponds PRIOR to being recycled…that water does not sit for eternity, nor is it wasted. Tailings ponds provide up to 90% of a company’s water needs for oil sands extraction through the re-use of the pond water, significantly reducing the amount of fresh water used.

    Kudos for the “can be seen from space” sensationalism. You would have been better served quoting accurate stats – tailings ponds cover of 130 square kilometres, not 50.

  3. Greeting from… CAPP‬‪

    Hey RAN.
    Nothing wrong with a little passion in position but your passion can’t gloss over the balance people want and need.

    In your Lush campaign (we luv the Lush airport store BTW: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1094074/Millionaire-Stansted-climate-change-protest-owns-shops-AIRPORTS-world.html), it appears you “make-up” facts.‬‪ Is “The Alberta Oil Sands Operation” you mention like the “Tailpipe Project” or perhaps “The Electric Company”?

    If you’d like to debate CAPP, we are happy to oblige.

    Let’s go – as you say – point-for-point. Shall we pick a time and place where we can discuss publicly, openly, honestly, factually? (Clothing not optional-sorry)


  4. Brant says:

    We’d never pass up a good debate! May we suggest a CUSID style debate on the familiar resolution: “Is it Time to Stop or Slow Oil Sands Development?”. As for where and when, we plan to be in Ft. Chipewyan in August.

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