Tar sands money could pay for desert solar or electric cars

| 16th March 2010
Tar sands oil refinery from the air
Tar sands oil refinery from the air

A tar sands oil production refinery in Alberta, Canada

Oil companies planning 'billion-pound blunder' into environmentally damaging tar sands production in Canada, says Co-op/WWF report

The multi-billion investment needed to expand the extraction of oil from tar sands production over the next 15 years will divert finance from renewable energy development, say campaigners.

Figures from the Canadian Energy Research Institute estimate £254 billion is required to bring oil production up to four million barrels per day from the current levels of one million.

The energy needed to extract and process the oil results in greenhouse gas emissions per barrel far greater than those of conventional oil. The spread of the tar sands exploration and production is also destroying forests and impacting on local wildlife and communities.

Tar sands investment

A joint Co-operative Group/WWF report has highlighted that the multi-billion pound plans would not only increase reliance on fossil-fuels but is also an investment that energy companies like BP and Shell could be making in low-carbon alternatives.

BP is investing $12.5 billion in tar sands projects and infrastructure, including the Sunrise tar sands project, a tar sands extraction project near Alberta. It has also struck a deal to buy a major share in a Canadian oil sands company.

Shell is spending $14 billion on expanding the Athabasca Oil Sands project, also in Alberta. This is in contrast to the $1.7 billion the company invested in alternative energy between 2004-9.

Renewables investment

The report, 'Opportunity cost of tar sands development', points out that £250 billion would be enough to fund the infrastructure [e.g. charging points] for a Europe-wide system of electric cars and subsidise their sale.

The same investment could also fund the Desertec project to link solar plants into a supergrid covering North Africa, Middle-East and Europe.

A much smaller £26.5 billion could pay for a North Sea supergrid linking European countries' renewable energy projects (mainly wind and wave) via high voltage undersea cables.

The move comes as campaigners look to put pressure on BP and Shell ahead of their upcoming AGMs.

Investors in the two companies have put forward a resolution which would force them to disclose and justify their involvement in Canadian tar sands. All shareholders will vote on whether to support the resolution.

Useful links

Co-op/WWF report on tar sands

BP and Shell face new shareholder revolt over tar sands
Investors want oil giants to answer questions on their involvement in the environmentally damaging extraction of oil from tar sands
Have greens got it wrong about tar sands?
For environmentalists, tar sands are a 'climate crime'; for peak oil experts, they can never do the job of ordinary crude. But neither critique tells the full story: that exploiting tar sands may worsen both the climate crisis, and the energy crisis...
Tar sands: tearing the flesh from the Earth
As the price of oil increases again, Canada's tar sands once more look like a giant cash cow to the industry. Now, the only thing standing between the 400 ton bulldozers and rampant environmental destruction may be a small group of First Nations people...
What's stopping us getting solar power from deserts?
Plans to use concentrating solar power plants in the Sahara to generate and export electricity have been on the table for years. Now, it looks as though political will might help move things forward
Bjorn Lomborg: ‘Carbon cuts have got us nowhere in tackling global warming’
Sceptic or realist? Bjorn Lomborg speaks to Tom Levitt about why his ideas on tackling climate change will actually help to solve the crisis


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