Carbon capture no solution to tar sands

| 26th October 2009
A landscape created by a love of oil
A landscape created by a love of oil

A landscape created by our insatiable demand for oil

Even the most optimistic forecasts for the potential of CCS technology to reduce CO2 emissions are not enough to make the development of tar oil sands comparable with other fossil fuels, says a new report

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will not negate the damage caused by the production of oil from tar sands deposits in Canada, says a new report.

The oil sands in Canada are the largest reserve of petroleum in the world outside of Saudi Arabia with and estimated 1.7 to 2.5 trillion barrels of oil trapped in a mixture of sand, water and clay.

However, the energy needed to extract and process the oil results in greenhouse gas emissions per barrel three times those of conventional oil.

CCS myth

CCS has been put forward as a way of reducing the emissions but the report, 'CCS in the Alberta oil sands – a dangerous myth’ published by The Co-operative Financial Services and WWF, says 'even the most wildly optimistic scenarios for the development of CCS fail to bring emissions down to those of today's conventional fossil fuels.'

The report says the amount of CO2 emitted during production would need to be reduced by around 85 per cent to make tar sands oil comparable with conventional oil.

The best estimates for CCS technology suggest it could reduce emissions by 10 to 30 per cent by 2020 and 30 to 50 per cent by 2050.

'Last year we published a report which found that Canada’s tar sands could increase atmospheric CO2 by more than 10 parts per million, which would take us right to the edge of runaway climate change. The industry’s response was that CCS would address this threat.

'Today’s report shows that even the most wildly optimistic scenarios for the development of CCS fail to bring emissions down to those of today’s conventional fossil fuels,' said Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at Co-operative Financial Services.

Instead of investing billions of dollars in CCS, says the report, Canada should look to other low-carbon technologies and stop the expansion of tar sands.

Christian Aid report

Elsewhere, Christian Aid have called on industrialised countries like the UK to share their knowledge of CCS with other poorer countries.

The UK has pledged £1 billion towards CCS demonstration projects and promised to transfer the technology to countries like India and China to help them cut their carbon emissions too.

Christian Aid has challenged the UK Government and energy companies to explain how they will make technology cooperation with these countries work. In a new report, Capturing India's carbon, it says there is some doubt about whether India has adequate and safe underground places to store captured carbon.

Useful links

WWF/Co-op report - CCS in the Alberta oil sands – a dangerous myth
Christian Aid report - Capturing India's carbon 

See also

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here