Tar Sands Greenhouse Gas Emissions Worse Than Reported

The extent of greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations is much worse than reported due to the failure of oil companies and governments to account for emissions from forest destruction, according to new research by Global Forest Watch Canada. (See press release)

The research paper, “Bitumen and Biocarbon,” shows for the first time that when the Boreal forest is disturbed and destroyed for tar sands development, significant amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted. Governments and industry do not measure or report these emissions.

Disclosure: Lead author and executive director of Global Forest Watch, Peter Lee, is a former Nature Canada board member. Check out the GFW web site for other reports on the status of forests around the world.

The research paper, which was partly funded by Greenpeace, shows that when emissions from the destruction of the Boreal forest are factored in, greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations are significantly higher than reported.

The research shows that under full development, the annual average release of carbon from the removal of natural ecosystems would be 8.7 megatonnes (mt) of carbon dioxide, with wide fluctuations over time. Current reported greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations, which do not account for these additional emissions, are about 36 mt a year. Planned expansion is expected to increase emission levels from operations alone to 120 to 140 mt a year.

The report, available for download on the Greenpeace Web site, estimates the amount of carbon dioxide released through land use changes from tar sands operations. Biological carbon, which is stored in living and decaying plants as soil organic carbon and as trees and other vegetation, is lost when natural ecosystems are disturbed or destroyed through mining of bitumen and the construction of roads, wellpads, mine pits, plant facilities and pipelines. Once disturbed, this biological carbon becomes carbon dioxide and adds to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Global Forest Watch’s research is yet more evidence that tar sands operations threaten to destroy or fragment not only the forests, but the vast lakes, rivers, and wetlands that provide nesting grounds for millions of birds in Canada’s Boreal.

All the more reason to declare a moratorium on any new tar sands development and to implement stricter environmental controls over existing operations. The environmental and human health costs are simply too high. If you agree, sign our petition and add your voice.