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Climate Change

Published on December 23rd, 2014 | by Jake Richardson


Tar Sands Companies Potential Climate Change Emissions Increased Five Times

December 23rd, 2014 by  

As if we needed any more convincing of how harmful pollution from tar sands oil production is, a new finding has indicated that the potential climate change emissions have increased by 5 times for the top 20 public companies working in that sector.


Processing tar sands produces quite a bit more greenhouse gas emissions compared with producing oil from other sources. Bitumen is a carbon-rich material that has to be refined by having the carbon removed by heating it to high temperatures. A byproduct called pet coke is generated that contains sulphur, heavy metals, and other impurities. It is sold to be burned in coal power plants in other countries where pollution regulations are less strict. Greenhouse gas emissions from pet coke are higher than coal.

This is all to say that oil from tar sands is dirty oil – some say the dirtiest.

FFI’s Director of Oil and Gas Research, Tom Francis, said: “Tar sands projects are particularly vulnerable to being abandoned due to the costly energy intensity of the extraction and refining processes. The overall emissions burden of gasoline refined from tar sands is more than 17% greater than that of gasoline refined from conventional crude oil, making it among the dirtiest feedstocks.”

If this information sounds sort of hopeless and depressing, there is something you can do. Don’t make investments in companies or funds that have strong ties to fossil fuel companies! The Fossil Free Indexes (FFI) has let us know that we can choose not to invest in them if we care about the planet and still invest in an index fund with good (actually, even better!) returns.

“Our clients have long been concerned about the environmental impact and the financial uncertainties associated with tar sands. Given the exceptional costs and risks associated with tar sands extraction, the substantial growth in tar sands reserves is striking.”

Socially responsible investing has grown over the years and so has green investing. According to the World Bank, the green bonds market expanded in 2013, and climate change awareness is an aspect of this type of investment.

It is possible to invest in a number of fossil-free opportunities.

The finding mentioned above about the potentially huge carbon emissions from the tar sands top 20 companies was based on research conducted using the same methodology utilized to rank the Carbon Underground 200.

So, if you have investments, are they the fossil-free kind, or are they contributing to global warming and climate change?

Image Credit: NASA

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About the Author

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Google Plus.

  • D. Robert

    Good article about tar sands and the damage to the environment but then a banner advertisement for TransCanada (the sponsor of the pipeline) at the top of the page. What’s with that?

    • Bob_Wallace

      The site doesn’t select the ads. Google does that. It’s pretty common on many sites to see something advertised that is being dumped on in the article. The ad app doesn’t read contextually.

  • Larry

    The tar sands oil/crud should be banned. The rape and pillage developers of these atrocities care only about profits. Major climate disasters are now the norm everywhere around the globe. Tar sands producers pocket the profit while average citizens see their homes and communities destroyed by megastorms. Idiot news media types keep repeating the mantra of “We’ve never seen a storm this intense before.” Tar sands execs refer to those rebuilding costs (and sometimes deaths) as “externalities”. Climate criminals care nothing about how much havoc they wreak.

  • Matt

    The fish in the rivers down stream from these mines are not save to eat. They are already leaking massive toxins into the river systems in Canada.

  • Dragon

    Thanks, Jake, for offering some things we can do to fight the tar sands madness. It’s sadly rare to see such calls to action in Cleantechnica articles.

    It’s also disturbing to see that tailing pond less than 1km from the river. I’m not sure how far pollutants travel in the soil there (you’d think fairly far, being sandy) but it strikes me as risky to dump all the toxic stuff so near the river. I also wonder if flooding from increasingly violent storms could end up mixing the tailing pond into the river directly.

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