Oil from Tar Sands One of the World's Dirtiest Fuels

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), December 27, 2011 | Go to article overview
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Oil from Tar Sands One of the World's Dirtiest Fuels


Byline: Bob Doppelt For The Register-Guard

Peak oil has never concerned me. Not because it's untrue. The production of conventional oil probably has peaked or soon will. It's because other fossil fuels can be converted into oil. Even if conventional oil peaks, oil derived from other fossil fuels can flow for decades. The longer we burn petroleum, however, the more carbon emissions we generate.

Our greatest problem is not running out of oil. It's that it won't happen quickly enough to prevent uncontrollable climate change.

Keeping oil - and profits - flowing is exactly what the Keystone XL pipeline proposal is all about. In 2008, TransCanada, a Canadian oil company, proposed to build a $7 billion pipeline that would bring 700,000 barrels a day of crude oil made from tar sands - a fossil fuel - 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. Environmentalists thought they had killed the project this fall when the Obama administration delayed until 2013 a decision on whether to approve it.

But Congress' extension of the payroll tax cut includes a provision that requires the president to make a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline within two months. The pipeline is far from dead.

Why should we be concerned? Making liquid fuels from tar sands requires a tremendous amount of energy for steam injection and refining. These processes, combined with the emissions generated when the oil is used, emit 10 percent to 45 percent more climate-damaging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere compared to conventional oil.

Opponents of Keystone XL, including noted climate scientist Dr. James Hansen of NASA's Godard Institute of Space Studies, say the pipeline will double our nation's reliance on one of the world's dirtiest fuels and result in carbon dioxide emissions equal to adding 6 million more cars to our highways. That's a scary proposition at a time when carbon emissions must be dramatically cut to prevent runaway climate change.

One of the first people to raise the alarm about the risks of Canadian tar sands oil was Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy. In 2008, she organized the High Carbon Fuels Resolution, which was unanimously endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The goal was to send a message to Canadians, the U.S. Congress, and the president that the mayors of America are concerned about dirty fuels.

But that wasn't enough to stop the use of tar sands oil. It turns out that behind the scenes some of the world's richest oil companies and the Canadian government have been working overtime to shore up support from the Obama administration for tar sands oil, while also undermining U.

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