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  1. Jeff White April 15, 2013 at 7:17 pm |

    Ian says:

    “The Alberta tar sands contain more than twice as much carbon dioxide as [has] been emitted by all of the oil burned in all of human history to date.”

    This is a remarkable and stunning statistic (once we get over the fact that the tar sands actually contain virtually no “carbon dioxide” as such, but rather, other organic carbon molecules that will produce carbon dioxide when burned above ground). It has been making the rounds ever since May 9, 2012, when James Hansen wrote in the New York Times:

    “Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history.”

    As far as I can determine that was the first time this observation has ever appeared on the internet.

    Where did it come from? I haven’t found any place where Hansen explains it, but I assume it comes from a comparison of the estimated reserves of petroleum in the tar sands with the world’s total consumption of conventional oil to date (an estimated 1 trillion barrels, according to industry sources.

    With today’s technology, it is estimated that there are 170 billion barrels of oil recoverable from the Alberta tar sands; but “if every last bit of bitumen could be separated from sand” the estimate jumps tenfold to a staggering 1.63 trillion barrels! Source

    If we take the higher figure of 1.63 trillion bbl, it’s still not double the trillion barrels of oil already burned. But tar sands oil produces more GHG emissions than conventional oil, when you factor in the emissions produced in processing the bitumen into basic crude oil. A recent report by U.S. energy policy analyst Richard K. Lattanzio says, “Well-to-Wheel GHG emissions are, on average, 14%-20% higher for Canadian oil sands crudes than for the weighted average of transportation fuels sold or distributed in the United States,” based on a review of the relevant literature. The 20% figure would be just about enough to explain how 1.63 trillion barrels of bitumen crude can entail the emission of twice as much GHG as 1 trillion barrels of conventional crude.

    And when you consider that extracting “every last bit of bitumen” would eventually require even higher relative expenditures of energy, and thus higher “Well-to-Wheel” emissions than the current tar sands technology produces, the recovery of all the oil in the tar sands could well result in at least double the GHG emissions from all the conventional oil ever previously burned on the planet.

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