Canada Tar Sands Pollution

Freedom of information documents reported by the CBC makes public that Canadian climate policies under consideration will still lead to significant increases in tar sands carbon pollution.  This comes days after the Canadian government released its annual report on greenhouse gas emissions acknowledging it will not be able to meet its promise – one it shares with the United States - made at the Copenhagen climate conference to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.  Significantly, the government report concedes that the per barrel intensity of carbon pollution from tar sands has increased in recent years.  This new information undermines the Canadian government’s lobby pitch in Washington DC telling a story that Canada’s tar sands carbon pollution problem gotten worse and it has no plans in place to reverse that trend.

The newly released documents reveal industry and the Canadian and Alberta governments have been negotiating behind closed doors to identify possible new climate regulations for the tar sands sector.  Promises for new regulations on the oil and gas – including tar sands – sector have been sold to U.S. audiences as part of an aggressive lobbying campaign to promote the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  What the documents show is that under any of the proposals tar sands emissions will grow.  Industry’s proposal would enable a 70 percent growth in tar sands carbon pollution levels by 2020 from today’s level. Even the “toughest” proposal under consideration would lead to an increase of 60 percent of tar sands emissions.  And none of proposals under consideration will enable Canada to meet its international climate target. 

Possible adoption of the oil and regulations in Canada – now delayed over six years – were brought into focus several months ago when the Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper was reportedly offering these forthcoming climate policies in exchange for approval of Keystone XL.  The offer from Prime Minister Harper to President Obama suggested (although this was never confirmed) that the oil and gas regulations could be part of what Canada would offer for Keystone XL.  The CBC report shows that any regulatory scheme adopted would be relatively weak.

As well, the new emissions data from the Canadian government confirmed that the tar sands industry is producing more carbon pollution per barrel than it did five years ago undercutting  claims made by industry and the Canadian and Alberta governments that Canada is making progress to reduce emissions intensity.  In fact, a report from the tar sands industry confirms this acknowledging that the per barrel intensity of carbon pollution from tar sands has increased 21 percent since 2008.  More broadly, the emissions data reports the Canadian government is very unlikely to achieve their promised international target to reduce emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels.  This has undermined the credibility of reports such as from IHS CERA who have failed to report on these trends.   Part of the problem is that industry has viewed the problem through the narrow lens of intensity reductions (which are still increasing) ignoring the bigger problem that overall emissions from the tar sands soar. The new information exposes the fact the tar sands industry will not be able to sell their story they have a handle on emissions.

Canada’s upward trajectory on carbon pollution is in stark contrast with the United States where an annual report of its energy-related emissions trends show the U.S. has been reducing its carbon intensity as it is shifting from coal.  In fact, U.S. energy-related emissions are at the lower levels since 1994.  If the U.S. is able to implement the action in the President’s Climate Action plan the U.S. would clearly be well ahead of Canada on the Copenhagen commitments.

As the U.S. evaluates Canada climate policies as part of its evaluation of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, it is clear that Canada is not able or willing to address its massive upstream climate emissions from the tar sands.  Approving Keystone XL would further this climate problem as the pipeline is a linchpin to expand production leading to a major increase in global greenhouse gas emissions over the pipeline’s 50-year period.  This is a key factor to inform the Obama administration and yet one more reason to reject the pipeline.

Photo Credit: Canadian Tar Sands Pollution/shutterstock