New COMMENT in Nature on oil sands

Suncor bitumen upgrader along Athabasca River oil sands north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo © Michael Collier

Suncor bitumen upgrader along Athabasca River oil sands north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo © Michael Collier

DOWNLOAD PRESS RELEASE: Palen et al_Press Release

DOWNLOAD COMMENT: Nature Comment

A Comment published today in the journal Nature calls for a moratorium on new oil sands projects in Alberta, Canada due to flaws in how oil sands decisions are made. The authors are a multidisciplinary group of economists, policy researchers, ecologists, and decision scientists. They argue that the controversy around individual pipelines like Keystone XL in the US or Northern Gateway in Canada overshadows deeper policy flaws, including a failure to adequately address carbon emissions or the cumulative effect of multiple projects. The authors point to the contradiction between the doubling of the rate of oil sands production over the past decade and international commitments made by Canada and the US to reduce carbon emissions. “The expansion of oil sands development sends a troubling message to other nations that sit atop large unconventional oil reserves,” said lead author Wendy Palen, Assistant Professor at Canada’s Simon Fraser University. “If Canada and the United States continue to move forward with rapid development of these reserves, both countries send a signal to other nations that they should disregard the looming climate crisis in favor of developing the most carbon-intensive fuels in the world.” The authors point out that oil sands development decisions (e.g. pipelines, railways, mines, refineries, ports) made in isolation artificially restrict public discussions. Debate in the news media and during hearings for individual projects are limited to evaluating the short-term costs and benefits to the local economy, jobs, environment and health, and do not account for the long-term and cumulative consequences of multiple projects or of global carbon pollution.

Tailings pond at Suncor's Steepbank bitumen mine Oil sands north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo © Michael Collier

Tailings pond at Suncor’s Steepbank bitumen mine
Oil sands north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo © Michael Collier

Coauthor Joseph Arvai, Professor and Research Chair in decision science at the University of Calgary, explained the problem. “Individual projects – a particular refinery or pipeline – may seem reasonable when evaluated in isolation, but the cumulative impacts of multiple projects create conflicts with our commitments to biodiversity, aboriginal rights, and controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Though we have the knowledge and the tools to do better – to more carefully analyze these tradeoffs and make smarter long-term choices – so far governments have not used them.” A moratorium would create the opportunity for Canada and the United States to develop a joint North American road map for energy development that recognizes the true social and environmental costs of infrastructure projects as well as account for national and international commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Anything less “demonstrates flawed policies and failed leadership”, the authors state.

 

 

LINKS TO RESOURCES:

Environment Canada (2013) Canada’s Emissions Trends

http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/985F05FB-4744-4269-8C1A-D443F8A86814/1001-Canada%27s%20Emissions%20Trends%202013_e.pdf

New Bloomberg Poll Showing Americans Willing to Pay for Carbon

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-10/americans-by-2-to-1-would-pay-more-to-curb-climate-change.html

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producer’s (2014) Crude Oil Forecast

http://www.capp.ca/getdoc.aspx?Docid=247249&DT=NTV

Canada’s commitment to Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

http://www.cbd.int/sp/targets/

Auditor General’s Report (2013) Highlighting Canada’s Lack of Progress on CBD

http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/docs/parl_cesd_201311_02_e.pdf

26 University Scientists Denied Opportunity to Testify at Pipeline Hearings

http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/04/10/donner-harrison-hoberg-lets-talk-about-climate-change/

Hillary Clinton talks about the need for US-Canada cooperation to move beyond making energy decisions “one-by-one” (@14:05)

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/hillary-clinton-talks-hard-choices-on-the-national-interview-with-peter-mansbridge-1.2677866

New WSJ Poll Says Two-thirds of Americans Support Obama’s New EPA Rules on Carbon

http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/06/18/obama-carbon-rule-backed-by-most-americans-wsjnbc-poll/

Co-Author Mark Jaccard’s blog

http://markjaccard.blogspot.ca/

Co-Author Tom Sisk’s collaboration with photographer Michael Collier:

Uinta Basin – An Unconventional Future 

Oil Sands Canadian Experience, Global Implications

9 thoughts on “New COMMENT in Nature on oil sands

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