Because Of Tar Sands, Energy Is Now Canada’s Biggest Greenhouse Gas Source

CREDIT: Shutterstock

Oil sands development in Alberta.

Canada’s energy industry has officially surpassed transportation as the largest producer of climate-change causing greenhouse gases, in no small part because of large increases in tar sands extraction, according to a government report quietly released Friday.

In its overview of reported greenhouse gas emissions from industry facilities in the year 2012, Environment Canada said that oil and gas production now accounts for one quarter of Canada’s greenhouse emissions, narrowly beating transportation. While total emissions had decreased by 7 percent overall since 2005, emissions from the oil and gas extraction sector increased substantially during that time — largely due to a tar sands production increase of 107 percent, the report said.

The increased emissions mostly came from Alberta, the primary source of Canada’s tar sands reserves. The Canadian tar sands — the second-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world next to Saudi Arabia — are the key ingredient for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil down to refineries in Texas in Louisiana. President Obama is said to be making a decision on that pipeline in the coming months.

This graph from Environment Canada shows the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from each type of fuel production.

This graph from Environment Canada shows the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions from each type of fuel production.

CREDIT: Environment Canada

Because the tar sands have such a unique, thick, gooey makeup, producers must use what is called “non-conventional” methods of getting the oil out of the ground. Those methods are controversial because they are more carbon-intensive, meaning they emit more greenhouse gases. Those non-conventional methods were largely the reason why Canada’s energy sector overtook transportation to become the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, the Environment Canada report said.

“The non-conventional oil extraction subsector … showed the largest overall increase in emissions since 2005, reflecting this sector’s steady growth trend,” the report said, noting that Alberta in particular has experienced a steady increase in overall emissions year over year since 2009.

Though the report showed that greenhouse gas emissions had reduced by 7 percent since 2005, it also showed decreases of only one percent from 2011, casting doubt that the Canadian government will be able to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals set under the Copenhagen Accord, an international treaty. Those goals require a 17 percent reduction below 2005 emission levels by the year 2020.

It’s not the only time Canada’s emission reduction targets have been called into question. A CBS news investigation in October showed that Canada would fail to meet those targets, while a Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers report in November found that per-barrel greenhouse gas emissions for tar sands have grown by 21 percent. Total emissions, the group said, have grown from 90 million metric tons in 2008 to 109 million metric tons in 2012.