Canadian tar sands pollution is up to 6,300% higher than reported, study finds, Call for companies to ‘clean up their mess’ as Athabasca oil sands emissions vastly exceed industry-reported levels by Matthew Taylor, 25 Jan 2024, The Guardian
Toxic emissions from the Canadian tar sands – already one of the dirtiest fossil fuels – have been dramatically underestimated, according to a study.
Research published in the journal Science found that air pollution from the vast Athabasca oil sands in Canada exceed industry-reported emissions across the studied facilities by a staggering 1,900% to over 6,300%.
Academics said this means that damaging reactive pollutants from the oil sands are equivalent to those from all other human-made sources across Canada with severe health implications.
Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada, said: “In quantifying the astonishing and largely unreported levels of health-damaging air pollution coming out of oil sands operations, these scientists have validated what downwind Indigenous communities have been saying for decades. This is making people sick, so our governments can and should require these companies to use some of their record-breaking profits to clean up the mess they’ve made.”
Canadian tar sandsBravo for calling the toxic shit what it is!, also called oil sands, are a massive site of oil extraction in the province of Alberta. They cover an area larger than England, are one of the biggest industrial projects on the planet, and have seen record production levels this year.
The type of oil in the tar sands is called “bitumen”. It is extremely heavy and difficult to extract. Getting it from deep in the ground to the surface can use up massive amounts of water – enough to rival what a small city may use on a daily basis. Even more water and energy is needed to refine it for commercial use and the amount of climate-polluting greenhouse gases emitted per barrel of tar sands oil can be 30% higher than conventional oil.
The study, published on Thursday, reveals the scale of air pollution caused by the process. Using aircraft to measure pollutants, it found that there are many organic compounds being released during the process that are missed by traditional ways of measuring air pollutants – with devastating health consequences.
“We are told this is all within the limits and OK but this report backs up what the communities living in these areas experience – it is so bad they cannot open their windows because it hurts their lungs to breathe – especially at night.”
The researchers examined emissions from surface mining operations as well as extraction from deeper deposits of bitumen.
They noted the importance of post-extraction waste management practices, such as “tailings processing” where toxic sludge is left to dry.
John Liggio, one of the research authors, said: “The study featured new measurements of total reactive organic chemicals onboard a research aircraft that reveal underestimated emissions by a factor of 1900% to over 6300% … These emission underestimates were not just observed at the more well-known surface mining operations, but also from in situ extraction facilities that represent over 50% of production with projected increases.”
The Canadian Environment and Climate Change ministry has been contacted for comment.
Alberta’s oilsands pump out more pollutants than industry reports, scientists find, Data collected by air finds levels of harmful pollutants can be more than 60 times higher than estimated by Benjamin Shingler, CBC News, Jan 25, 2024
Alberta’s oilsands operations produce far more potentially harmful air pollutants than are officially reported, with the daily output on par with those from gridlocked megacities like Los Angeles, new research suggests.
The study, published today in the academic journal Science, measured concentrations of organic carbon emissions in the air by flying overhead and taking samples. Those numbers were compared to estimated amounts, prepared using ground-based data, reported by oilsands operations.
The researchers from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and Yale University found levels that were between 20 and 64 times higher than those reported by industry, depending on the oilsands facility.
The chemicals included volatile organic compounds, which are considered dangerous to human health and found on the warning labels of products like nail polish and paint thinners.
John Liggio, a co-author of the study and an ECCC research scientist, said the total output of these chemicals is roughly on par with what’s produced from all other human sources in the country, ranging from transportation to manufacturing.
“When we measured the organic carbon emissions from the oilsands — the total organic carbon — those emissions were substantially higher than what industry is reporting,” Liggio said in an interview.
Pollutants not captured in official reporting
The emissions levels reported by industry to the federal and Alberta governments are typically calculated using what’s called a “bottom-up” approach, based on estimates of the amount of emissions produced for specific activities in the oilsands, said the study.
Research using satellite imagery and measurements from aircraft is known as a “top-down” approach.
In this case, the researchers drew the samples from 17 facilities during 30 flights in 2018.
“Work over the last 15 years or so has continually shown that there’s more going into the air from the oilsands than is being officially recorded,” said Jeffrey Brook, air quality expert and associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Liggio said recording pollutants in this way would be far too costly to do regularly. However, he said the study can help industry and government better track what is being pumped into the air.
“You can’t know what you’re missing and how important what you’re missing is until you go out and measure it, and that’s the point of this paper,” he said.
The gap between industry estimates and actual concentrations found by the researchers has caught the attention of Pathways Alliance, which represents major oilsands producers.
The study has “identified a difference between ground measurements and those collected in an aircraft that warrant further review,” spokesperson Mark Cameron said in a statement.
Industry “measures emissions using standards set by Environment and Climate Change Canada and we look forward to working together Bribe and or threaten the researchers quiet? to explore opportunities to further enhance our pollution
measurement practices,” he added.
ECCC did not immediately return a request for comment.
Tiny particles a health concern
The study focused on pollutant levels rather than potential impacts on human health.
But the pollutants can eventually transform into tiny particles like the ones produced in wildfires, which doctors warn can be harmful to human health.
“The tiny particles are something we track a lot as being a health concern,” said Brook.
That particulate matter, known as PM2.5, measures 2.5 microns or less in diameter — roughly 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
Such particles can have long-term consequences on human health, said Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician in Calgary and past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
“It’s pretty mind-blowing, the amount of pollutants that are being thrown out into the air by these facilities,” he said.
“I think it’s really important to recognize that we have this monitoring of industrial facilities for a reason. They exist so that we can understand the impact of the industrial facilities on the landscape and on people. And unless we have the actual truth in what is being emitted it’s very hard to put that into context.”
Refer also to:
2021: New study: Unconventional oil/gas development has larger impact on ambient particle radioactivity (PR) level compared to conventional; Widespread upwind unconventional/frac activities could significantly elevate PR level in downwind communities and induce adverse health effects to residents.
2021: Nuclear reactors to steam Alberta’s aquifer-polluting tarsands is not clean or safe. Pretending so will be the ruse to make taxpayers pay, giving more corporate welfare to billion dollar profit-raping companies (while working to destroy public health and education). An unwise greedy idea, that will enable more tarshit shipping (needs toxic condensate), spills and use (risking life on earth).
2021: NY State Pension Fund (3rd largest public pension in USA) blacklists tarsands companies: Imperial Oil, CNRL, Husky Energy, MEG Energy, Athabasca Oil, Japan Petroleum Expl Ltd. & Cenovus (Encana/Ovintiv spawn) for failing “to show they are transitioning out of oil sands production,” will sell off more than US$7 million in securities in these companies, will not make any further investments in them. Frac’ers to be evaluated next.
2021: Swedbank to withhold credit from worst polluters and new oil and gas projects, will stop financing extraction from Arctic, *shale* and *tarsands.* No wonder, with decades of trickery used by Big Oil to prevent pollution reduction and having become “really good at stretching the truth,” while Exxon cuts $20Billlion in shale value.
2021: Canada’s UNDRIP Bill C-15, “Shit Some More on Indigenous Peoples” bill to keep rape & pillage by white rich going strong. Rosemary Baxter: “I’m sick to death of our Canadian racism and discrimination…mostly against our Indigenous people. God.”
2020: Norges Bank blacklists CNRL, Cenovus (split from Encana – now Ovinvtiv – after Ernst lawsuit filed), Suncor and Imperial Oil from Gov’t Pension Fund Global for unacceptable carbon emissions in Alberta’s tarsands. Updated with tar-pimping by Ms. Southern and Alex Pourbaix, CEO Cenovus.
2019: Jason Kenney gives multi-billion dollar profiting companies a taxpayer-funded war room to abuse citizens concerned about industry’s rampant life-threatening pollution: Suncor tarsands revenue up from $11.2 to $12 billion between 2017 and 2018 when companies whined about how hard it was to operate in Canada; CNRL boosted its revenue from $7.1 to $11.5 billion
2019: THE PLAN ALL ALONG: Writing on Alberta’s Polluting Deregulating Walls: Pilot project to dump toxic tarsands waste directly into Athabasca River, followed by more deregulating to enable oil, gas, frac waste dumped directly into watersheds across Canada?
2017: Fox Creek’s Barb Ryan provides excellent summary of Canada’s new tarsands study insanity! Industry under-reporting VOC pollution by factor of 2 to 4.5. Is industry also under-reporting toxic frac pollution & drinking water contamination?
2017: New study on diesel pollution: “There is strong evidence that particulate matter (PM) emitted mainly from diesel road vehicles is associated with increased risk of heart attack, heart failure, and death.” Ever wonder why so many get sick when the oil & gas industry invades your home & community? Air pollution cost Canadians $36 Billion in 2015 alone!
2017: AER continues to let tarsands companies off the hook for not readying their waste lakes for clean up. Who’s surprised? 13 years after Encana broke the law, fracked Rosebud’s drinking water aquifers, AER still not making Encana clean up
2016: New Study: Alberta’s tar sands leading source of air pollution in North America, Tens of thousands of people living within reach breathing elevated levels of fine particles linked in previous studies to lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes
2015: AER – industry’s self-regulating deregulator – orders “expectations” to Nexen over massive pipeline spill south of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation calls the break a tarsands milestone: “It is now home to the largest spill in Canadian history”