Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Environmental cost of tar sands too high, U.S. report says

Globe and Mail June 8, 2007
Environmental cost of tar sands too high, U.S. report says
By Bob Weber
Edmonton -- One of the most influential environmental groups in the
United States is training its sights on Alberta's oil sands in an
attempt to persuade Americans to stop increasing their dependence on
"bottom-of-the-barrel" energy.
A report by the Natural Resources Defence Council to be released
Monday at a symposium in Washington, has been obtained by The Canadian
Press. The report potentially damages the market for oil sands oil by
encouraging U.S. regulations against fuels that generate high volumes
of greenhouse gases in their use and manufacture.
"In a horrible way, the tar sands have put Alberta on the map for
people in the U.S.," said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, one of the report's
The paper summarizes environmental objections to the oil sands that
are already familiar to Albertans but not necessarily to U.S.
consumers of the energy produced from the sticky deposits in northern
It repeats arguments that oil sands expansion is strip-mining vast
tracts of boreal forest and draining and polluting watersheds. It also
points out that one barrel of oil sands oil creates three times as
much greenhouse gas as one barrel of conventional oil because it is
more difficult to extract and refine.
Nearly two-thirds of Canadian oil production, including oil sands
production, heads directly south. The report advocates low-carbon fuel
standards, such as those adopted by California, which would take into
account carbon emissions produced over a fuel's entire life cycle.
"There are certainly ways for the American public to have a voice in
how much of this tar sands oil we're taking," Ms. Casey-Lefkowitz
said. "You have a choice about what the future looks like for fuel and
that really is what this is about."
But Alberta industry observers and government representatives are
skeptical about the impact of international criticism.
"You've got consumers who want to be green but don't want to put their
money where their mouth is," said analyst George Eynon of the
Calgary-based Canadian Energy Research Institute.
Mr. Eynon points out that California continues to buy electricity
generated by coal-fired plants outside its borders.
"It won't make a blind bit of difference - the demand for oil is going
to increase," he said.
"It really becomes a political PR problem."
Alberta Energy spokesman Jason Chance said the province meets
regularly with U.S. government officials.
"They have recognized that the province is a sustainable and
well-managed source of energy," he said.
Environmentalists should credit the province and its oil and gas
industry with advances made in reducing energy and water use, Mr.
Chance suggested.
"Image and perception is one thing, but we're taking real, tangible
Still, Dan Woynillowicz of the Alberta-based Pembina Institute, which
contributed to the report, said there are numerous examples of public
pressure scuttling industrial plans, including the defeat of proposals
to drill in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge.
As well, Quebec's Great Whale hydro project was shelved in the
mid-nineties after U.S. power customers backed out over environmental
"I would expect that other major American [environmental] groups will
follow suit," Mr. Woynillowicz said.
"As people's awareness increases on this issue, they'll exert pressure
economically but they'll also exert it politically."
Canadian Press

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