Study: Air/Climate Pollution From Canada’s Oil Sands Vastly Underestimated (By As Much As 4.5x)

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The standard way of estimating air and climate pollution originating from Canada’s oil sands operations vastly understate the reality of the situation, according to a new study from the Canadian government.

To put a figure to that assertion, the study found that actual air and climate pollution from Alberta’s oil sands operations may be up to 4.5 times higher than officially acknowledged.

Oil sands disaster in eastern Alberta. Image Credit: Kris Krug (some rights reserved)

The new findings essentially show something that most impartial observers would probably be able to guess anyways — the energy industry greatly under-reports its actual emissions; and, actual greenhouse gas and air pollution measurement via satellites and airplanes is far more accurate.

Considering that fact, it’s a bit interesting that government agencies in the US and a Canada both rely on estimates provided by the energy industry itself to determine national greenhouse gas emissions … hence one of my many reasons for being very skeptical of the claim that economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions have “decoupled.”

Climate Central provides more: “The Canadian research team measured emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in the air above oil sands operations in Alberta. VOCs, most of which are not greenhouse gases, have an indirect effect on the climate. They produce ozone, which is a greenhouse gas and can harm human health.

“Ozone can allow methane to linger longer in the atmosphere than it would under normal conditions. The longer methane, which has about 86 times the power of carbon dioxide to warm the globe over the span of 20 years, remains in the atmosphere the more it helps to warm the climate. …

“The team found that VOC emissions rates from oil sands production were between 2 and 4.5 times the levels companies reported, depending on the location.”

Notably, the researchers are now working on a separate analysis focusing solely on greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands operations.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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