Tar Sands Fuel Headed to Massachusetts
By ecoRI News staff
Massachusetts motorists will soon be filling their tanks with gas increasingly derived from Canadian tar sands oil, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
A flood of dirty fuel into Massachusetts would undercut the state’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution, according to the NRDC. The report found that under current plans, tar sands-derived gasoline supplies in 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states would soar from less than 1 percent in 2012 to 11.5 percent of the total by 2020, due to increased imports from Canadian refineries, fresh supplies of refined tar sands fuels from Gulf Coast refineries, and quantities from East Coast refineries that would obtain tar sands crude via rail and barge.
An influx of carbon-intensive fuels into Massachusetts and the rest of the region, which in 2012 were virtually tar-sands free, will hurt the efforts to combat climate change, according to the report entitled “What’s in Your Tank? Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States Need to Reject Tar Sands and Support Clean Fuels.”
“This report is an urgent wake-up call, one that Massachusetts must heed in order to avoid wiping out recent gains in reducing transportation sector carbon pollution,” said Sue Reid, Massachusetts director of the Conservation Law Foundation, which co-sponsored the report. “Tar sands-derived gas poses a direct threat to the commonwealth’s transportation energy mix and our clean energy future.”
Massachusetts has a state action plan and legal requirements under the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act to cut dangerous carbon pollution, which is the major driver of climate change. By adopting federal “clean cars” standards and investing in public transportation, Massachusetts has begun reducing carbon pollution in the transportation sector. But these important carbon savings would be squandered by using gasoline from tar sands, which emits 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventional gasoline measured on a life-cycle basis, according to NRDC.
“Dirty gasoline supplies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are set to rise significantly, unless states take steps to keep out high-carbon fuel,” said Danielle Droitsch, NRDC Canada project director. “By 2015 the volume of tar sands-derived fuel in the Northeast could grow sixfold, compared to 2012.”
The new Gulf Coast Pipeline, which will bring tar sands crude from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Gulf Coast, makes it even more urgent for communities and policymakers to take action to keep tar sands out of the region, she said.
If the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil from Canada to the United States is approved by President Obama, the region’s share of gasoline from tar-sands crude could rise even further, according to the report.
The extraction and refining of oil from Alberta’s vast tar sands region, an area the size of Florida, is an energy-intensive process that destroys carbon-trapping forest lands and emits 81 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil extraction and refining, according to the NRDC.
NRDC and others oppose Keystone XL, which would carry Alberta’s tar sands oil through the heartland of America to Gulf Coast refineries, in part because it would enable a vast expansion in tar sands production.
If tar sands gasoline becomes a major share of supplies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, it would add millions more tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere each year — just as the region is aiming to cut such pollution under the landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state pact, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, to combat climate change by reducing carbon pollution from power plants.
The report also underscores the importance of promoting a wide variety of low-carbon and no-carbon transportation alternatives, from cleaner fuels to buses and rail, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly planning.