Adam Brandt, global expert on the carbon footprint of fuels, explains why oil sands’ 20% greater greenhouse gas emissions are significant.
The debate over the Keystone XL oil pipeline heated up again last week after the Congressional Research Service issued a report saying the project could raise U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 21 million metric tons a year—the equivalent of adding 4 million cars to the road.
The Congressional Research Service is a branch of the Library of Congress that conducts policy analysis for lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Released last Tuesday—less than two weeks after TransCanada re-applied for a permit to build the Keystone XL—the report found that crude oil produced from Canadian oil sands (also known as tar sands) emits 14 to 20 percent more planet-warming gases than the conventional oil that is typically found in U.S. refineries.
The report analyzed a number of studies, including a 2011 report by Stanford University professor Adam Brandt, who spoke with InsideClimate News this week about his research.
Brandt is an expert on the greenhouse gas impacts of transportation fuels. His report was commissioned by the European Union, which will decide next year whether to adopt a fuel-quality directive to reduce the transportation sector’s carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020. The directive would encourage the use of less carbon-intensive fuels by labeling tar sands oil more polluting than other fuels.
In his interview with InsideClimate News, Brandt said that the Canadian oil sands industry opposes the EU directive because it could set a precedent for other countries. Though stuck in legal limbo, regulators in California have already approved a low-carbon fuel standard, and Northeastern states are considering a similar measure. The debate over oil sands will only intensify as the industry seeks to expand.
The Keystone XL is one of many oil sands pipelines slated for construction in the U.S. over the next five years. If approved, it would transport up to 830,000 barrels a day of oil sands from Alberta to Steele City, Neb. From there, the oil would be shipped to the U.S. Gulf Coast for refining and export via a second pending TransCanada pipeline.