Carbon cannot significantly reduce tar sands emissions, says new report

Carbon capture technology will not solve the climate change threat posed by the expansion of tar sands developments, a damning new report warns today.

The study produced by The Co-operative Financial Services and WWF-UK debunks the idea, lauded by oil companies and the Canadian government, that carbon capture and storage (CCS) will significantly counter the high levels of greenhouse gases emitted in the production of oil from tar sands deposits in Alberta, Canada.

The production of tar sands oil is a highly energy intensive process and emits on average three times more CO2 than conventional oil production. Canada’s proven tar sands reserves are 173 billion barrels of oil, second only to Saudi Arabia.

The report examines the potential for CCS to prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere as a result of tar sands production and concludes that the process could not possibly achieve what has been claimed.

The study finds that whilst the amount of CO2 emitted during production needs to be reduced by around 85 per cent to make tar sands oil comparable with conventional oil, even the most optimistic forecasts for CCS see production emissions reduced by 10 to 30 per cent at selected locations by 2020 and 30 to 50 per cent across the industry by 2050.

The study said that even under the most optimistic scenarios for the application of CCS, the projected production emissions from tar sands developments would be greater than the whole of Canada’s 2050 carbon budget were it to reduce emissions by 80 per cent compared with 1990 levels, as the climate science requires.

It also warns that the maximum potential of CCS would be insufficient to reduce lifecycle emissions of tar sands oil to levels needed to meet emerging international low carbon fuel standards such as those in California and the EU.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at the Co-operative Financial Services said: “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.”

David Norman, director of campaigns at WWF-UK added, “The application of CCS technology to oil sands is simply too little, too late, and too expensive to qualify as a climate solution. Investing billions in unproven CCS technology for tar sands is diverting money away from projects that will help meet the global energy demand without damaging the climate. Canada should invest in other low-carbon technology and stop the expansion of tar sands.”