1706469159 Tar sands in Alberta Emissions up to 64 times

Tar sands in Alberta | Emissions up to 64 times higher than official data –

Pollutant releases associated with oil sands extraction and refining in Alberta are far greater than those reported by the industry, a study in the journal Science concludes. “A serious problem” that must lead to changes in emissions assessment, say experts.

Published at 1:10 am. Updated at 6:00 am.


20 to 64 times more than official data

Researchers from Environment Canada and Yale University published the results of their study of pollutant emissions associated with oil sands in Alberta on Thursday in the journal Science. Between April and July 2018, they measured the concentration of organic carbon emissions in the air and then compared them with official industry results. Please note that official data is compiled based on Environment Canada guidelines. The results showed that actual concentrations were 20 to 64 times higher than those published in the Alberta Emissions Inventory Report and Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory.

More polluting than Los Angeles

Tar sands in Alberta Emissions up to 64 times


Traffic on a highway in Los Angeles, USA

“Volatile organic compounds are associated with significant impacts on air quality and the environment,” report the authors of the study entitled “Total Organic Carbon Measurements,” highlighting major gaps in the reporting of petrochemical emissions. These compounds, better known by the abbreviation VOC, include gases and vapors that contain carbon, such as vapors and solvents, and exclude carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). According to the study, emissions from the oil sands industry are higher in Alberta than in Los Angeles.

A call to do better

In particular, the researchers conclude that “specific VOC reporting alone is not sufficient to capture the full spectrum of carbon emissions.” According to them, “full coverage […] Broadcasting is necessary to effectively inform science and policy.” “This study highlights some important issues in reporting organic carbon emissions from the oil industry. Given the scale of emissions involved, this problem is very serious and should lead to changes in the way we quantify emissions from different actors,” believes Alejandro Di Luca, Professor of Climatology at the Department of Earth and Geosciences UQAM.

A costly approach

1706469152 475 Tar sands in Alberta Emissions up to 64 times


Oil facilities near Fort McMurray, Alberta

In an interview with the journal Nature, Nadine Borduas-Dedekind, an atmospheric chemist at the University of British Columbia, said she was “concerned about the magnitude of the numbers.” “They want to measure all the carbon. For air quality, for health, but also for the climate,” she said, as certain carbon molecules would ultimately be oxidized into CO2. However, one of the study's authors, John Liggio, a researcher at Environment Canada, clarified to the CBC network that conducting this type of analysis would be far too expensive. Still, he hopes his study will help industry and the government better monitor these VOC emissions into the atmosphere.

The industry is open to improving its “measurement practices”

Data for this study was collected during approximately 30 aircraft flights over 17 oil sands industrial sites in 2018. The aircraft was equipped with a device to measure VOCs. A significantly more expensive approach than the current method, which is based on estimates of soil emissions and approved by Environment Canada. “The oil sands industry measures emissions using standards set by ECCC [Environnement et Changement climatique Canada]and we look forward to working together to explore opportunities to further improve our measurement practices,” Mark Cameron, spokesman for the Pathways Alliance, which brings together Canada’s largest oil companies, told media.