Study Finds Tar Sands Has Higher CO2 Emissions Than Thought, Calls Land Restoration Pledge ‘Greenwashing’

A new study finds the tar sands have yet higher CO2 emissions than expected because of the threat they post to forests and peatlands.

That is no bombshell: Climate Progress has previously pointed out that tar sands development threatens the carbon-rich boreal forests. Now it has been quantified.

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that existing industry plans for exploiting the tar sands will destroy over 29,500 hectares (65%) of local peatland.  Peatlands are better known as bogs, moors, mires, and swamp forests. Their decaying organic matter is rich in carbon and already emerging as a major amplifying carbon-cycle feedback.

The study, “Oil sands mining and reclamation cause massiveloss of peatland and stored carbon,” finds that this destruction will release stored carbon equivalent to 42 to 173 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, “as much as 7-years worth of mining and upgrading emissions at 2010 production levels. The study notes that this “will reduce carbon sequestration potential by 5,734–7,241 metric tons C/y” and points out

These losses have not previously been quantified, and should be included with the already high estimates of carbon emissions from oil sands mining and bitumen upgrading

The study also slams the industry’s claim can restore the tar sands “to a sustainable landscape that is equal to or better than how we found it”:

Claims by industry that they will “return the land we use – including reclaiming tailings ponds – to a sustainable landscape that is equal to or better than how we found it” (33) and that it “will be replanted with the same trees and plants and formed into habitat for the same species” (34) are clearly greenwashing.The postmining landscape will support >65% less peatland. One consequence of this transformation is a dramatic loss of carbon storage and sequestration potential, the cost of which has not been factored into land-use decisions. To fairly evaluate the costs and benefits of oil sands mining in Alberta, impacts on naturalc apital and ecosystem services must be rigorously assessed

CP has previously reported on research that makes clear there is no place for a major expansion of the tar sands if we want to avoid catastrophic global warming. This study reinforces that conclusion.

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13 Responses to Study Finds Tar Sands Has Higher CO2 Emissions Than Thought, Calls Land Restoration Pledge ‘Greenwashing’

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Destroying the boreal forest around the Tar Sands is horrible, and toxic, too.

    What about Canada logging, though? They log (mostly clearcut) over 800,000 hectares per year. This has huge consequences for the earth’s carbon budget (about 200 million tons of emissions per year) and Canada’s future ability to have a viable and diverse forest carbon sink.

    Most of those trees go to toilet paper and paper towels, packaging, catalogs, and two by fours. Substitutes for all are available.

  2. Paul Magnus says:

    Here is a great personal perspective on the impact of the Norther Gateway pipeline…. his local knowledge just shows its going to be sooner rather than later for a tanker spill.

    Hartley Bay Guide Speaks Plainly About Tankers and Pipelines

    A guide from the Gitga’at Nation of Hartley Bay in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, Robinson opens up about a range of topics — from the navigational risks of the proposal to the toll dealing with Enbridge has taken on his family and community.

  3. Paul Magnus says:

    Eyes wide shut…. Here we have blatant crimes against humanity right in front of our electorate.

    Harper Conservatives target environmental reviews

    “The recommendations contained in this report are all about railroading through projects and ignoring the environment. Prime Minister Harper has made it quite clear that he considers environmental regulations to be a roadblock to be demolished and the dynamite is being handed over by the Standing Committee,”

  4. Sasparilla says:

    Sad to hear this, although not unexpected. Emissions higher than thought, eh? Higher than previously thought, boy have we heard that statement before.

  5. Zach says:

    The level of planetary threat these sands pose SHOULD warrant extreme sanctions by the UN onto Canada to get them to stop. Canada is such a disappointment. They used to be a leader on climate issues, now they have the finger on the trigger to screw this planet, and they’re slowly pulling down on it.

  6. John says:

    Maybe there is hope after all!

    CO2 makes you fat

  7. Ernie Seedhouse says:

    Excluding oxygen by burying organic material will prevent the release of CO2. Methane can be collected and be used to replace dirty coal in power generation.

  8. Chris Lock says:

    That’s right. And added to the rapid deforestation is the race to harvest as much mountain pine beetle infested trees as possible, before these trees are unusable as toilet paper.

    Why are our politicians in Canada in such a race to export as much raw resource as possible in the shortest amount of time? Logging and tar sands, both insane policies in place in the west of Canada.

  9. Luther E. Franklin says:

    Goodbye Civilized world…Glad I’m too old to see mass starvation and its violent results, usable ocean life destroyed by carbonic acid and runoff, undrinkable water, polluted air, crop destruction by rogue storms and droughts, wars over disappearing usable land and resources, immune Pathogenic bacteria and viruses spreading like wildfire, insects and rats invading formerly hostile environments, and idiots sitting by a polluted riverside waiting for a “Rapture” that will NEVER come.

  10. sailrick says:

    We need to end the absurd ban on growing industrial hemp in the U.S., and make paper with it, along with other useful products.

  11. david dunn says:

    This again shows how inadequate the science is in evaluating the damage to all the environment caused by the extraction and use of all natural resources. This only shows the direct associations of the loss of carbon , it does not take into account the loss of biodiversity and the wider effects on other living plants and organisms and their interactions with the greater surroundings.

  12. Gordon Chamberlain says:

    Financial accounting fraud is motivated by the reward millions/billions. Committing fraud as to the human, ecological and economic impact of the capitalist agenda is motivated by the reward. We have to ask what would criminal negligence in addressing our efforts to live sustainably look like? The politically sanctioned corporate agenda is profiting from manufacturing epidemics of illness and death from sugar, salt, fat and sodium nitrate.
    How we deal with large scale long term damage to our environment the web of life, our life support systems will determine how many people and how much of the web of life is going to survive. The web of life is being destroyed, this is not green wash it is ecocide. As is
    Global climate destabilisation
    Boreal ecosystem destruction from tar sand mining and toxic lakes
    Ocean ecosystem collapse from acidification
    Ocean fisheries plundering
    Amazon ecosystem destruction
    As a result the campaign has begun to have ecocide prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

  13. Martin from Edmonton says:

    The Harper Conservative government has, time and again, refused to enjoy the benefit of information offered as it tries to support ideological opinion which flies in the face of the demonstrable facts. This should not be a surprise to anyone, nor is it new. The same ‘head-in-the-sand’ choice to support facile societal wrecking is also evident in other areas, particularly those involving the penal / justice systems, and party ethics. The Conservatives are whittling away at StatsCan’s ability to gather and present facts, and are doing their best to muzzle Canadian scientists. The internationally-respected head of StatsCan resigned a while ago, citing a need to remain honest in what he says and being unable to live with the political requirements of the Harper Conservative administration to twist and deceive the Canadian public.

    So, Friends, sad but no surprises here with this pattern of decision-making. For years and years we heard “The West Wants In” in Canadian politics. This is the best they could do … deceptive shills and unethical fraud? Pretty low standard of quality, eh?