Tar Secrets Chart: Pssst, Mr Harper, don't let Obama see this ...

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Sure enough this is equally "true". Last year, burning tar sands oil (361 MtCO2) did indeed create six times the CO2 as extracting USA coal (61 MtCO2). It is "true" but also misleading.

"Apples to apples" comparison

Unlike industry marketing spin, my chart compares the same climate metric for each fossil carbon source. This allows you to quickly compare the relative climate impact of each. I've chosen the metric of "extraction CO2 + burning CO2" because it shows the full impact on our climate from the exploitation of each carbon deposit.

I also built my chart to include multiple decades. This allows you to quickly see which sources are increasing their climate impact and by how much.

Finally, I included a future projection that shows what the tar sands industry says it plans to do if unrestrained.

Here is the chart again:


The picture that emerges is one of a tar sands industry pushing hard to extract fossil carbon at a scale that will soon rival what is extracted from all the US coal deposits.

The science is clear that a safe climate requires that the amount of fossil carbon extracted each year start to decline. That is especially true for very dirty sources of electricity like US coal, and for very dirty sources of transportation fuels like Alberta's tar sands.

In my opinion, the last thing our destabilized climate needs is for the Alberta's tar sands to morph in a climate disaster on the monstrous scale of US coal.

We need to tame the US coal climate monster, not unleash another one.

Bonus chart

Here is the same data divided by the number of citizens in the extracting nation. For example, it shows each American's share of the total climate pollution from their US-mined coal. Likewise it shows each Canadian's share of the total climate pollution from their Canada-extracted tar sands.



The geeky details

TOTAL CLIMATE IMPACT -- All lines show the full climate impact of exploiting a particular carbon deposit. "USA Coal" is all coal mined in USA. Canadian coal is all coal mined in Canada. And Tar Sands is all carbon extracted from tar sands deposit. I calculated "full climate impact" by adding emissions from extraction + burning. Even the "USA coal-fired power" line includes extraction emissions.


US COAL -- US coal production stats are from US EIA data tables. I multiplied this by 0.066 to get extraction emissions. This factor is from Canadian government's GHGenius data set for coal mining. As a confidence check I compared resulting emissions to US EPA coal mining emissions that were published for 2011 and found a very close match. I also multiplied coal tonnes by 2.088 to get burning emissions. This factor is the 2010 USA average from EPA and EIA data.

CANADIAN COAL -- Canadian coal production stats came from National Resource Canada data tables. These were multiplied by the same factors listed above for US coal. As a confidence check I compared the coal mining emissions result for 2010 against reported emissions from Canadian GHG inventory and found very close match.

TAR SANDS HISTORICAL -- Barrel production figures are from National Resources Canada, Environment Canada and CERI. These are multiplied by 0.521 to get burning emissions per barrel. This factor is from Oil Change International's "Petroleum Coke" report. Extraction emissions through 2010 are from Canada's National Inventory Report.

TAR SANDS PROJECTION TO 2025 -- The dashed line on the chart shows capacity expected to result if industry follows through on their announced plans. This is from CERI's "unconstrained" scenario in their "Canadian Oil Sands Supply Costs and Development Projects (2012-2046)" may 2013 report. This level could increase if industry announces more new plans. CERI thinks this level is unlikely to be met from already announced plans because there are many constraints that might emerge. But it shows what industry says they plan to do if "unconstrained".

ALTERNATE 2025 SCENARIOS -- Here are four scenarios I calculated for 2025. Only the "unconstrained" scenario is listed on the chart. I chose that because it reflects what the industry says they want to do. You can use the y-axis to quickly see where the others fall.

1760 MtCO2  from 8.0 Mbbl/day = Dashed line on chart. Industry plans to date. This is CERI "Unconstrained scenario." If industry announces more projects this value would rise.

1500 MtCO2 from 6.9 Mbbl/day = CERI "High scenario." If industry announces more projects this value could rise.

1430 MtCO2 from 6.5 Mbbl/day = If growth rate of last 12 years (2000-2012) is repeated in next 13 years to 2025. (author's calculation)

1250 MtCO2 from 5.6 Mbbl/day = CERI "Reference scenario." If industry announces more projects this value could rise.

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