Public Release: 

Producing fuel from Canada oil sands emits more carbon than from US crude

American Chemical Society

The production of petroleum from Canada's oil sands is on the rise with much of it destined for U.S. refineries. As the U.S. takes stock of its greenhouse gas emissions, scientists report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology that the current oil sands production of fuels from "well-to-wheels" releases about 20 percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than making gasoline and diesel from conventional crudes.

In 2013, the oil industry was producing nearly 2 million barrels per day from Canadian oil sands. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to just over 4.8 million barrels per day. Studies have estimated the impact of oil sands on greenhouse gas emissions, but the figures have ranged widely, depending on several factors such as the extraction method and refining efficiency. Hao Cai and colleagues wanted to come up with a more detailed assessment.

To calculate the carbon footprint of fuels from Canadian oil sands, the researchers took a more comprehensive approach and incorporated in their formula recent technological upgrades designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the upgrades, they found that gasoline and diesel from Canadian oil sands still released 18 percent and 21 percent more carbon, respectively, into the atmosphere than those same fuels from conventional crude oils that come from U.S. sources.

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The authors acknowledge funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

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