Leaving The Oil in The Ground
The Carbon Tracker Initiative recently released a report titled “Un-Burnable Carbon“. Two important facts came out of that report. First, in order to reduce the risk of raising global temperature above +2 degrees Celsius, we have to limit our emissions of CO2 to less than 565 GtCO2 over the next 40 years. (The “G” in GtCO2 stands for “Giga”. So GtCO2 means “billion tonnes of CO2”) Sounds like a lot, right? Unfortunately, the second important fact from the report is that proven fossil fuel reserves are around 2795 GtCO2, or nearly five times more than our “budget”. That means means that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, 80% of the fossil fuels we have left need to stay in the ground.
To me, that is the critical argument against the Alberta Tar Sands. Proponents of the project brag that the Tar Sands is the second largest reserve of oil on Earth. They are right, but it is not a good thing.
According to NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, there is enough oil in the Tar Sands to increase atmospheric CO2 by 200 parts per million (ppm). That doesn’t take into account the mining of bitumen or the separation of oil from that bitumen. It is 200 ppm from burning the oil that is currently underground in the Alberta Tar sands. And the carbon-capture technology that our Federal Government is so proud of investing in will not help with this problem. CCS (carbon capture and sequestration) has the possibility of helping with large single sources of CO2 such as coal fired plants. However, most of the oil coming out of the Tar Sands is bound to be burned in the engines of cars, boats and planes meaning that Canada’s CCS investments and the technology those investments may yield will do little to reduce the impact of the Alberta Tar Sands.
If we want to fight climate change, we need to start making some hard decisions about what we do with the oil, coal and natural gas that is still in the ground.