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Beneath the Surface: A review of key facts in the Oilsands debate


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Presentation from a 2013 webinar by the Pembina Institute

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Beneath the Surface: A review of key facts in the Oilsands debate

  1. 1. Beneaththe SurfaceA review of key facts in theoilsands debateApril 2013
  2. 2. 2Leading Canada’s transitionto a clean energy futureThe Pembina Institute is a national non-profit think tank thatadvances clean energy solutions through research, education,consulting and advocacy.
  3. 3. Presentation Overview• Climate and air• Water• Tailings• Land and wildlife• Economics3
  4. 4. Climate and AirAverage oilsands production is significantly moregreenhouse gas (GHG)-intensive than conventionaloil production• Production emissions typically 3.2 to 4.5 times moregreenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil• Lifecycle emissions are higher than conventional (23% EU, 8-37% Canada/US)4
  5. 5. Climate and AirOilsands emissions are a growing problem• Large per-barrel decreases in GHG intensity have stalledor worsened5Past changes in industry-wide greenhouse gas intensity in the oilsands
  6. 6. Climate and AirOilsands emissions matter on a national scale,and are a significant barrier to meeting Canada’s2020 climate commitment• Oilsands emissions accounted for 7% of Canada’semissions in 2010, forecasted to be 14% in 2020• Emissions forecast to reach levels higher than theemissions from every province except AB and ON6
  7. 7. Climate and AirOilsands emissions matter on a global scale• Canada is among top-10 GHG producers on absolute andper capita basis• Oilsands growth is challenging Canada to meet itsinternational climate target due to massive growth• While other sectors in Canada’s economy are expected toreduce GHGs by 67 Mt by 2020 (relative to 2005 levels),oilsands GHGs are expected to add 72 Mt of GHGs7
  8. 8. Climate and AirCurrent regulations do not result in meaningfulreductions in greenhouse gas emissions fromoilsands development• Alberta regulations ($15/tonne x 12% of emissions = $1.80compliance cost)• Carbon capture and storage costs $95-$225/tonne8
  9. 9. Climate and AirAir quality is starting to be impacted by oilsandsair pollution• Air quality exceedances increasing• 33X more exceedances in northeastern AB in 2009compared to 2004• Air concentrations for NO2, SO2, H2S and O3 getting closeto limit levels9
  10. 10. WaterWater monitoring in northeastern Alberta hasbeen inadequate, yet governments continue toapprove new oilsands projects• Federal/Provincial plan not complete until 2015• 5.2 million barrels approved• Peer-reviewed research continues to show oilsandsdevelopment is having an impact on water quality• Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons now 2.5 to 23 timesgreater than 1960 levels in some lakes due to oilsandsdevelopment10
  11. 11. WaterOilsands extraction uses large amounts of water,despite recycling efforts• Mining – 2 to 4 barrels of water per barrel of bitumen afterrecycling• In situ extraction – 0.8 to 1.7 barrels of water to extract andupgrade a barrel of oil• In 2011, oilsands industry used 170 million cubic metres ofwater, equivalent to the residential water use of 1.7 millionCanadians11
  12. 12. WaterOilsands companies are not required tostop withdrawing water from the AthabascaRiver, even if river flows are so low thatfisheries and habitat are at risk• Water allocations from Athabasca River nearlydoubled in past decade due to oilsands• Current water withdrawal management frameworkprioritizes industry use over aquatic protection• Missing element – Ecosystem Base Flow (EBF)absolute cut off point above which no withdrawals areallowed (rare event, 1/100 years)• GoA now missed two deadlines to release finalframework12
  13. 13. TailingsOilsands tailings volumes continue to grow dueto a permissive regulatory approach• Current tailings rules not enforced• Lack of transparent reporting to indicate how companiesare faring today• Rules only address a portion of tailings production• 250% increase in tailings area since 2005• Current area = 176 square kilometres• Current volume = 830 million cubic metres13
  14. 14. TailingsTailings lakes house compounds known to beacutely toxic to aquatic organisms• Tailings concentrate naturally occurring compounds totoxic levels over time• Source of metals, PAHs, hydrocarbons, naphthenic acidsand solvents14
  15. 15. TailingsTailings lakes seep an undetermined amount oftoxic waste• Little publicly available information exists to indicate howoperators are monitoring or capturing this seepage• Tailings seepage rate is ~ 11 million litres/day15
  16. 16. TailingsCapping toxic tailings waste in end pit lakes withwater is an unproven and risky concept• Could take decades to determine whether end pit lakesare a viable and safe permanent storage site for tailings• 29 end pit lakes have been proposed by oilsandsoperators16
  17. 17. Land and WildlifeRestoration of wetlands continues to be a majorchallenge and may never occur• Peatlands likely to be permanently lost after mining• As of 2011, approved mining production is expected toresult in a loss of approximately 28,000 hectares ofpeatland• Alberta has no wetland policy to prevent wetland loss innortheastern Alberta17
  18. 18. Land and WildlifeIn situ developments may affect a much largerarea than oilsands mining• In situ potential 30X larger than mineable region• More GHG-intensive than mining• Results in significant landscape fragmentation18
  19. 19. Land and WildlifeWoodland caribou herds are declining in theoilsands and are on track to be extirpated• Local extinction likely in 30 years• Federal recovery strategy identifies 65% intact habitattarget• Undisturbed caribou habitat in Northeastern Alberta = 24%19
  20. 20. Conclusions• Significant opportunities to address oilsandsmismanagement• Need a greater emphasis on management vs.communications• Pace and scale need to slow to accommodatenew policy solutions• Role of technology limited without regulatorydrivers20
  21. 21. EconomicsTaxpayers may foot the bill for cleanup ofoilsands mines• Operators not responsible for 100% of cost of cleanup• Little reclamation security and protection for Albertans overlife of mine until the end21
  22. 22. EconomicsRelying on the volatile profits from oilsandsprojects to fund essential services createsfinancial risks for both the private and publicsector• Oil grown from 18% to 46% of total Canadian commodityproduction in past 15 years• Price of oil fluctuates widely• Oilsands producers have a narrow price window in whichto operate• Oilsands roller coaster unreliable means to fund socialprograms and provide ongoing revenue22
  23. 23. eNews, Media releases, Publication
  24. 24. Climate and AirForecasted growth in oilsands will present veryserious air pollution challenges in the WoodBuffalo Region• Approved production is almost triple current operatinglevels• Modeled predictions for NO2 levels already exceedAlberta’s air quality limits24
  25. 25. Land and WildlifeThe boreal forest will not be restored to itsnative state following mine closure• Objective is equivalent land capability vs. pre disturbancestate• Forest uplands and end pit lakes vs. peatlands and oldgrowth forests• Only 0.1% of total area disturbed by oilsands miningcertified as reclaimed25
  26. 26. Land and Wildlife26Oilsands disturbance vs. reclamation from 1987-2008Source: Alberta Environment
  27. 27. Land and WildlifeOilsands development threatens to harmmillions of birds through habitat fragmentationand destruction• Regional bird populations currently healthy• Mining may impact the breeding habitat for 280,000 to 3.6million birds over 20-40 year period• In situ development could impact as many as 14.5 millionbirds27
  28. 28. EconomicsThe costs and benefits of oilsands developmentare not spread evenly across Canada• AB expected to reap 94% of GDP impacts from oilsandsdevelopment• Jobs created by oilsands in next 25 years – 86% willremain in AB• Manufacturing sector declining while natural resourcesector booming28