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Tar sands no longer dirty?

by admin January 19, 2010

The impact of Alberta’s tar sands on the environment is not as bad as the public believes, states a report from the Conference Board of Canada. The report released last week claims that the tar sands’ contribution to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions levels is not as great as it’s made out to be, and stressed that there are other areas, aside from the tar sands, the public can target as the bane of the environment.

Oil sands are naturally-occurring deposits of a black, oily and viscous material called bitumen. Until recently, these mixtures of sand, water and bitumen weren’t considered part of the world’s oil reserves. Increasing prices and demand for oil led to finding ways to extract from the deposits and produce valuable products.
Mining oil sands impacts the land, the water used in the separation process, and the air.
However, the report’s co-author Leonard Coad, who also serves as the Board’s director of environment, energy, and transportation policy, states that oil sands only produce five percent of Canada’s GHG emissions, whereas vehicles and road transportation produce 18 percent.

“If you take a gallon of gasoline and look at all the emissions required to refine them,” Coad said, “You are looking at two-thirds to three-quarters of emissions of what a vehicle makes.”
Coad said oil companies are taking action to improve the way they extract bitumen from the oil sands. So far, they have decreased 33 percent of their GHG emissions per barrel since 1990, he said.
While oil companies are continually looking at new technologies to reduce the amount of water needed to extract bitumen, Coad said, consumers must also take responsibility and find ways to reduce their GHG emissions, such as car pooling, because they are creating the demand.

Environmental group Sierra Youth Coalition, however, said oil companies need to take responsibility for the negative impact they have on the environment.
Greg Ross, administrative coordinator of the Sierra Youth Coalition, said, “It’s unfortunate that we keep going backward instead of forward on finding new ways to protect the environment.”
Ross said he feels the condition of the environment only will improve once the major players with the tar companies realise the effect and the contradictory messages they are sending Canadians and the world.
“We need to reach the people who are keeping the tar sands alive,” Ross said, “because money is the driving force.”

Coad suggested that Canada’s economy could benefit from tar sands productions. Exploiting the sands will help make Canada the second largest oil exporter in the world, and the first in North America, which will lead to Canada becoming a major player in the exportation of energy.
Unconvinced, Ross explained that many Canadians may not understand the full impact of the tar sands because they are not able to see its direct effects. But, he urged, the impact is harmful for everyone.
“It is such a negative image for Canadians,” Ross said.

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