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Tar Sands Means C02 Game Over

Location of bitumen depoits (

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While this blog disagreed with Hansen’s position on nuclear power for base-load electric power, this blog agreed with the position this leading climate scientist takes on tar sands. Treehugger began their interview on Climate Change and Intergenerational Justice by noting Hansen’s concern: “the phase out of emissions from coal is, itself, an enormous challenge. However, if the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it’s essentially game over.” And, James Hansen elaborated upon his aversion to such development.

The tar sands are the deposits, primarily in Canada, where there’s oil mixed with sand. And you can extract the oil but it’s a very energy-intensive process. So you end up emitting a lot more carbon dioxide than you would in a pure oil deposit. So it’s not a very efficient way to get energy. But the basic point is that we know there’s enough CO2 in the easily available oil and gas to take us up to the dangerous level of atmospheric CO2.

And what that means is that we can’t afford to develop these unconventional fossil fuels. It just will push us far into the dangerous zone, and we will end up having to try to figure out how to get that CO2 back out of the atmosphere. So it just doesn’t make sense to develop them to begin with.

Alberta Tar Sands

Actually, the Pollutocracy has taken over in Canada, and full-scale development of Alberta tar sands and distribution of the product to a U.S. market is fully underway. For example, bad news from Green Car Congress, although at a first glance you might take CO2 capture as good news.

GCC tells us that “Shell is seeking to improve its oil sands environmental performance through CO2 reduction, improved water management and minimizing the impacts of tailings ponds.”

Shell has signed agreements with the Governments of Alberta and Canada to secure C$865 million (US$876 million) in funding for its Quest Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Project in Canada. (Earlier post.) The Quest Project will capture and permanently store deep underground more than 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year—about 35% of the total emissions—from Shell’s Scotford Upgrader near Edmonton, Alberta, which processes heavy oil from the Athabasca oil sands.

Such environmental conscientiousness seems a good thing. It really is a bit of show as this terrible contribution to carbon emissions and environmental devastation scales up. In the same post GCC notes that signing of the funding agreement was “part of an event marking the earlier start-up of Shell’s 100,000-barrel-per-day expansion of its Athabasca Oil Sands Project (AOSP), bringing total capacity to 255,000 barrels per day. AOSP includes the Muskeg River Mine, Jackpine Mine and Scotford. It is a joint venture among Shell Canada (60%) Chevron Canada Limited (20%) and Marathon Oil Canada Corporation (20%).

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