MAC: Mines and Communities

Mega Tarsands developments in Canada are generating serious environmental and social damages

Published by MAC on 2007-04-30

Mega Tarsands developments in Canada are generating serious environmental and social damages

30th April 2007

A movement is building for a moratorium on expansion of the Alberta tar sands.

Baird's 'Green Plan' Gives Tar Sands Industry Free Ride!

From the Polaris Institute,Ottawa, Canada

30th April 2007

[The] federal Canadian environment minister John Baird has just released his long awaited plan of action on targets for industry reductions in greenhouse gases [GHG]. After examining his plan here at the Polaris Institute, we find that his proposals for 'intensity based targets' to reduce GHG emissions from industries like the Alberta tar sands, to be flawed and full of loopholes. The main reason is that 'intensity targets' will only set GHG limits per barrel of oil and will not account for the enormous expansion in the industry that is expected between now and the 2015.

Right now, the tar sands of Alberta produce over a million barrels of dirty crude oil every day, most of which is exported directly to the United States. To produce this crude oil, gigantic equipment is used to strip away the trees, muskeg and top layers of earth followed by deep open pit mining and sub-surface in-situ steam methods to get the bitumen ['black gloo'] which is then melted in order to extract the oil. In separating the oil from the bitumen, relatively clean natural gas is burned, thereby emitting volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Today, the Alberta tar sands industry is well on its way to becoming Canada's number one industrial emitter of greenhouse gases. Currently, annual emissions from tar sands production amount to 27 million tonnes. By 2015, however, crude oil production from the tar sands is expected to multiply four to five times, in order to meet rapidly rising U.S. demands.

As a consequence, annual forecasts predict greenhouse gas emissions from the tar sands will rise from 27 million tonnes to 126 million tonnes by 2015.

Under any circumstances, these emission rates are not only environmentally unsustainable but they could pave the way for an ecological nightmare. And, John Baird's 'intensity targets' will do little to alter this picture. Moreover, new tar sands industry operations, which will be mainly responsible for the four to five-fold increase in production expected, will get a three year exemption from Baird's emission targets.

Not only does John Baird's 'Green Plan' effectively scuttle Canada's obligations under Kyoto as an international treaty, but also, Canada is already considered to be the world's leading greenhouse gas emitter on a per capita basis. With the production plans for the Alberta tar sands, Canada's reputation will only get worse.

As concerned citizens, we need to send a clear message to environment minister John Baird calling for a new strategy. Please click on to, then scroll down to the message box [review message]. There you'll find a sample letter to the federal environment minister calling on him to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new, more comprehensive, industry-wide plan with absolute targets for an effective reduction of greenhouse gases. Just follow the instructions [adding a personal note if you wish] and then click on 'send' and your letter will be delivered directly to the Minister's office. Also, feel free to pass this email on to others!

Tony Clarke
Director, Polaris Institute

The Polaris Institute has developed a website on the issue:

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