June 6, 2011

Carbon Emissions of Oil Sands and Competitors

 This table from is from Michael Levi, "The Canadian Oil Sands: Energy Security vs. Climate Change" (Council on Foreign Relations, 2009). As Levi notes:
The average life cycle emissions associated with a barrel of oil sands crude currently exceed those from the average barrel of oil consumed in the United States by about 17 percent. This is due mainly to emissions from production and upgrading, which are nearly three times higher for the average barrel of oil sands crude than for the average barrel of oil consumed in the United States. 

Actual emissions from individual oil sands projects vary widely: according to a recent RAND study, oil sands’ production and upgrading emissions range from 70 kg to 130 kg per barrel; this is equivalent to exceeding the life cycle emissions from the average barrel of oil consumed in the United States by 50 kg to110 kg per barrel, or 10 percent to 20 percent. Other sources from a diverse range of viewpoints provide similar estimates. Average oil sands production emissions could increase with a shift from natural gas to dirtier process fuels like coal or raw bitumen, or decrease due to technological improvements; the latter trend has recently dominated.

The roughly 1.2 mb/d of current oil sands production is thus responsible for a premium of about 40 million tons of CO2 emissions each year compared to conventional oil. This is equal to about 5 percent of Canadian emissions, 0.5 percent of U.S. emissions from energy use, and slightly less than 0.1 percent of global emissions—a small piece of the emissions picture. If oil sands production increases as expected and the emissions entailed in producing each barrel are not reduced, that contribution will roughly triple by 2030, making oil sands a huge relative contributor to Canadian emissions but still a relatively marginal one in the U.S. and global contexts.
 Here is a long table of all the Canadian oil sands projects, from an industry association.


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