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

Pollutant releases linked to tar sands extraction and refining operations in Alberta are much higher than those reported by the industry, concludes a study in the journal Science. “A serious problem” which must lead to changes in the evaluation of emissions, experts believe.

20 to 64 times more than official data

Researchers from Environment Canada and Yale University published Thursday in the journal Science the results of their study on polluting emissions linked to tar sands in Alberta. Between April and July 2018, they measured concentrations of organic carbon emissions in the air, which they then compared to official results reported by industry. Note that official data is compiled based on Environment Canada guidelines. The results demonstrated 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 in Los Angeles


Traffic on a highway in Los Angeles, United States

“Volatile organic compounds are associated with considerable impacts on air quality and the environment,” report the authors of the study entitled Total organic carbon measurements reveal major gaps in petrochemical emissions reporting. These compounds, better known by the acronym VOC, include gases and vapors that contain carbon, such as vapors and solvents, and exclude carbon dioxide (CO).2) and methane (CH4). According to the study, emissions associated with the oil sands industry in Alberta are higher than those found in Los Angeles.

A call to do better

Notably, the researchers conclude that “specific VOC reporting alone is not sufficient to capture the full range of carbon emissions.” According to them, “comprehensive coverage (…) of emissions is necessary to effectively inform science and policy”. “This study highlights some important issues with reporting organic carbon emissions from the oil industry. Given the scale of the emissions involved, this problem is very serious and should lead to changes in the way we quantify the emissions of different actors,” believes Alejandro Di Luca, professor of climatology at the Department of Earth and Earth Sciences. the atmosphere of UQAM.

A costly approach


Oil installations near Fort McMurray, Alberta

In interview with the magazine Nature, Nadine Borduas-Dedekind, an atmospheric chemist at the University of British Columbia, said she was “concerned by the magnitude of the numbers.” “You want to measure all that carbon. For air quality, for health, but also for the climate”, since certain carbon molecules will end up being oxidized into CO2, she clarified. One of the authors of the study, John Liggio, a researcher at Environment Canada, however, clarified to the CBC network that this type of analysis would be far too expensive to carry out. He nevertheless says he hopes that his study will help industry and the government to better monitor these VOC emissions into the atmosphere.

The industry open to improving its “measurement practices”

Data for this study was collected through approximately 30 plane flights over 17 oil sands industrial sites in 2018. The plane was equipped with a device capable of measuring VOCs. A significantly more expensive approach than the current method, based on estimates of ground emissions, approved by Environment Canada. “The oil sands industry measures emissions using standards established by ECCC (Environment and Climate Change Canada), and we look forward to working together to explore opportunities to further improve our measurement practices,” said to the media Mark Cameron, spokesperson for the Pathways Alliance, which brings together the largest oil companies in Canada.

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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