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New Study Concludes Substantial Quantities of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Land-Use Change in the Boreal Forests for Oil Sands Production Are Unreported

3 October 2009

A new study released by Global Forest Watch Canada finds that significant amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted through the disturbance and/or removal of biocarbon (trees, shrubs, peats), which overlay Alberta’s oil sands. These land-use change emissions have not previously been measured nor reported by governments and industry. The resulting analyses, maps and report give further insights into the growing impacts of oil sands development on Alberta’s and Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The total area of natural ecosystems that are planned to be removed by oil sands extraction is 1,613,887 ha (20 times the size of the City of Calgary). These areas store 579 megatonnes (million tones) of biological carbon, mostly in peatlands. When the carbon in soils, peat and trees breaks down, it combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2). As a result, 873 megatonnes of CO2 may be emitted into the atmosphere over the next 100 years under the scenario of full oil sands development. The resulting annual average emissions of 8.7 megatonnes of CO2 will substantially raise the normally-reported emissions from the oils sands industry activities.

We wanted to know what volumes of greenhouse gases will be emitted by the oil sands industries from existing and planned levels of development within boreal forest ecosystems. What we found is an astonishing volume of present and projected future greenhouse emissions due to the conversion of biocarbon to carbon dioxide and methane.

—Peter Lee, lead author of the report and Executive Director of Global Forest Watch Canada

Findings of the paper include:

  • As of June 1, 2009, 68,574 ha of boreal forest and peatlands had been cleared for oil sands surface mining. This forest and peatland area contained the equivalent of 77 megatonnes of CO2;

  • Peatlands have been naturally sequestering carbon for millennia. Full development of the oil sands area would result in the loss of 438,659 ha of peatlands and a potential release from these peatland areas of 657 megatonnes of CO2.

  • The natural ecosystems that have undergone or may undergo land use change into open pit mines, tailings ponds, mine waste, overburden piles and associated facility plants, and other major infrastructure resulting from existing and potential surface mining activities total 488,968 ha (including 209,614 ha of peatlands and mineral wetlands and 205,590 ha of upland forest). The above and below ground biological carbon content of this area is at least 140.7 megatonnes.

  • The natural ecosystems that have undergone or may undergo land use change into central facilities, exploration wells, production wells, access roads, pipelines and other infrastructure from existing and potential in situ operations total 1,124,919 ha. This area contains at least 438.2 megatonnes of above and below ground biological carbon.

  • Although not all of the biological carbon contained within ecosystems changed by bitumen industrial activities will be emitted into the atmosphere, if all of this carbon (578.9 megatonnes) were emitted, this would amount to 2,121.3 megatonnes of CO2. While this scenario is unrealistic, the authors note, it nevertheless highlights the significance of potential greenhouse gas emissions from the release of biological carbon stores from those natural ecosystems that will be changed by a full development scenario of the bituminous sands.

    The likely estimate of releases under a full development scenario would be 238.3 megatonnes of carbon, 873.4 megatonnes of CO2, or 41.1% of the total carbon contained in the area disturbed by bitumen industrial operations. Over 100 years, this would average out to 8.7 megatonnes CO2 per year, with great variability year-to-year and decade-to-decade.

  • Although reclamation will sequester carbon from the atmosphere, it is unlikely to replace most of the lost biocarbon for thousands of years. Canada’s total emissions for 2007 were 747 megatonnes CO2eq from all sources and Canada’s Kyoto target is 558.4 megatonnes. The bituminous sands industry reported emissions of 28.5 megatonnes of CO2eq in 2004, 35.8 megatonnes of CO2eq in 2007, and have been projected to be 113.1-141.6 megatonnes CO2eq in 2020.

We undertook this research to help better inform the recent efforts of the Government of Alberta to try to balance bitumen extraction with environmental concerns. As part of these initiatives, it is important to know the full carbon emission impact of all activities associated with oil sands development, not just those related to industrial processing.

Our research also builds on the reports commissioned by the Alberta Government's Energy Research Institute. One of those reports concluded that assessing and including greenhouse gas emissions that may arise from land use was beyond the scope of their work. We hope our Bitumen and Biocarbon analysis will motivate others to include the destruction of natural boreal ecosystems, and the consequent loss of stored biological carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, into more complete life cycle assessments of the impacts of bitumen industrial activities.

—Peter Lee

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October 3, 2009 in Climate Change, Emissions, Lifecycle analysis, Oil sands | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

How much would Alberta's record high GHG (75 tonnes per capita per year) be raised if this overlooked source is included?

It would help to replant trees + top soil on all areas already exploited? If so, who will pay the bill.

How much would Canada's record high GHG (25 tonnes per capita per year) be raised if this and other overlooked sources were included?

.

And since science proves that CO2 is a lagging indicator of Global Warming®, it doesn't really matter.

Now, how about that ice age that we've been heading into?
Record cold temps everywhere!

Praise be unto Algore!

.

Goracle:

Please take a few days and go have a look at the devastated areas already created and you may change your mind.

Harvey's comment makes sense if the emphasis is on what environmental concerns SHOULD be about. Now that AGW has collapsed - greens need to get back to the hard, difficult work of protecting natural resources. Not because of global warming but because there are viable alternatives that are renewable and do not destroy the land.

It's a lot harder to do this on the real merits than to claim we're all gonna die from sea level rise and catastrophe. That's why it's called work.

AGW has not collapsed. The warming trend has continued right up until this year. Arctic sea ice extent has been decreasing dramatically for the last 30 years. The fact that in geological past temperature rise leads CO2 rise by 800 years is actually evidence supporting concerns over AGW. The gradual milankovitch orbital cycles which cause ice ages to come and go are reflected in the temperature and CO2 records as spikes, which demonstrates the positive feedback relationship (climate sensitivity) between CO2 and temperature. As temperatures rise when an ice age ends, this triggers a series of feedbacks which contribute to further CO2 release and increased temperatures. The dominant greenhouse gas is water vapour, resulting in about 2/3 of the greenhouse effect of Earth. With every one degree increase in temperature, air can hold 7% more water. This is why a small increase caused by an increase in CO2 can result in a magnified effect. And this is supported by evidence in the records of CO2 / temperature leads and lags from the ice core data.

.

Ice core data shows that CO2 lags warming by about 500 years. CO2 is a lagging indicator. SUn activity is a leading indicator.

Praise be unto Algore.

.

And that shows what? That before people were around, CO2 acted as a positive feedback mechanism for other warming factors, exacerbating and magnifying warming? As usual, the typical disingenuous arguements get repeated over.

CO2 is in itself a warming factor. No other factors have been shown to be the root cause of the present warming trend. Other factors are in a lull period and the temperature is still up and showing no signs of cooling.

Actual studies that readily disprove the sun -

Benestad 2009: "Our analysis shows that the most likely contribution from solar forcing a global warming is 7 ± 1% for the 20th century and is negligible for warming since 1980."

Ammann 2007: "Although solar and volcanic effects appear to dominate most of the slow climate variations within the past thousand years, the impacts of greenhouse gases have dominated since the second half of the last century."

Lockwood 2007 concludes "the observed rapid rise in global mean temperatures seen after 1985 cannot be ascribed to solar variability, whichever of the mechanism is invoked and no matter how much the solar variation is amplified."

Foukal 2006 concludes "The variations measured from spacecraft since 1978 are too small to have contributed appreciably to accelerated global warming over the past 30 years."

Scafetta 2006 says "since 1975 global warming has occurred much faster than could be reasonably expected from the sun alone."

Usoskin 2005 conclude "during these last 30 years the solar total irradiance, solar UV irradiance and cosmic ray flux has not shown any significant secular trend, so that at least this most recent warming episode must have another source."

Solanki 2004 reconstructs 11,400 years of sunspot numbers using radiocarbon concentrations, finding "solar variability is unlikely to have been the dominant cause of the strong warming during the past three decades".

Haigh 2003 says "Observational data suggest that the Sun has influenced temperatures on decadal, centennial and millennial time-scales, but radiative forcing considerations and the results of energy-balance models and general circulation models suggest that the warming during the latter part of the 20th century cannot be ascribed entirely to solar effects."

Stott 2003 increased climate model sensitivity to solar forcing and still found "most warming over the last 50 yr is likely to have been caused by increases in greenhouse gases."

Solanki 2003 concludes "the Sun has contributed less than 30% of the global warming since 1970".
Lean 1999 concludes "it is unlikely that Sun–climate relationships can account for much of the warming since 1970".

Waple 1999 finds "little evidence to suggest that changes in irradiance are having a large impact on the current warming trend."

Frolich 1998 concludes "solar radiative output trends contributed little of the 0.2°C increase in the global mean surface temperature in the past decade"


And the CO2 lagging temp has a bunch of studies as well.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/co2-lags-temperature.htm

Try some science.

Short of south Florida and New Orleans disappearing, the non-believers hard core will never admit it. However, most of them may not be around when it happens, so they dont care if their grand children have to deal with it.

MarkBC:

Arctic ice is melting and Antarctic ice is NOT melting:

http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2009/10/06/antarctic-ice-melt-at-lowest-levels-in-satellite-era/

Axis orientation?

The Antarctic is expected to actually have colder temperatures due to wind shifts. But the peninsular areas that jut out into the ocean are having significant melting (that's where all the ice shelves are breaking off.)

And that graph is hardly a dramatic decline, as compared with the decline in arctic sea ice over the last 30 years.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/antarctica-gaining-ice.htm

The antarctic is losing land ice mass. It's only the sea ice in the arctic that's gaining and that is in spite of increasing ocean temps. And that is only temporary.

http://www.agu.org/pubs/crossref/2009/2009GL040222.shtml

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