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Report Assesses Energy and Carbon Efficiency of Canadian Oils Sands Projects

Oil sands projects vary widely in carbon intensity. Click to enlarge.

Trucost Plc, an UK-based environmental research company, has analyzed carbon data from Canadian oil sands projects to identify which oil producers are more exposed to financial risk from energy and carbon costs. Oil sands production is, in general, 3-4 times more carbon intensive than conventional oil production, reflecting the large amounts of natural gas and other fossil fuels burned during the production process.

While energy and carbon efficiency is improving in the oil sands industry, carbon intensity varies widely among projects. The carbon intensity of eight projects analysed by Trucost ranges from 9 kg CO2e per barrel of oil produced up to 106 kg CO2e per barrel. The average was 76 kg CO2 per barrel. This intensity correlates with energy costs and potential profitability of each company’s oil sands operation.

Oil sands developments account for 4% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and are contributing to the country’s failure to meet its Kyoto Protocol target to cut emissions by 6% below 1990 levels between 2008-2012. Canada is on track to miss its target by at least 30%. Rising oil sands production is driving Canada’s emissions up at a faster rate than nearly any other OECD country.

—“Oil sands: Exposure to energy and carbon costs”

Findings show the most carbon-intensive project to be at Syncrude Canada Ltd.’s Mildred Lake and Aurora North Plant. The project’s carbon intensity rose between 2004-2006, reflecting a rise in energy intensity. This indicates a reversal of its improving carbon performance with a reported 14% fall in GHG emissions per barrel between 1990 and 2004.

The Mildred Lake and Aurora North Plant surface mining project includes energy-intensive upgrading operations which involve fluid coking, hydroprocessing, hydrotreating and reblending. Petroleum coke, a carbon-heavy by-product of fluid coking, is burned to provide heat for the bitumen cracking process.

Muskeg River Mine extraction project, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell, Marathon Oil Corporation and Chevron, was ranked as the least carbon intensive. This is the only surface mining project analysed that does not include upgrading activities.

The production process and fuel mix used to power facilities have a major effect on the energy and carbon intensity of operations. In situ extraction is much more energy intensive than surface mining. Some companies use advanced technologies that improve energy efficiency. Oil sands projects that use cleaner fuels and are more energy efficient emit fewer greenhouse gases.

...Projects with rising carbon intensity are most at risk of exceeding mandatory targets, and investors in these projects are exposed to financial risk from energy and carbon costs.



John Taylor

Using huge amounts of Natural gas to get out the oil is a sin.

Worse, it is all energy for export to the USA.
When the oil is gone, the money is gone, but the polluted landscape is left, as is our CO2 enriched atmosphere with acid rain and global warming.

A shame for all Canadians.

Mad Max

What is the point of using natural gas to get oil?

If you have natural gas you can use it directly, including for transportation: CNG cars and trucks have existed for more than half a century, and are remarkebly clean.


Not to mention water.


The oil sands process requires a lot of steam.
Currently natural gas is utilized for heating water and producing steam.
In the future, the natural gas supply won't be enough, and they will have to use something else to produce the steam.
If nuclear power, 20 new nuclear reactors would be needed.
Maybe they could use some of the oil -just produced-
to generate the steam too.


John Taylor, the point of using natural gas to get oil is that you put around 1.2GJ of Energy into the process and Get 6.1 GJ of energy out.... that's how it works...


Biofuel production from non-wastes sources emits much more CO2 from a well-to-wheels standpoint per unit of energy in the final product...

But, for some reason, these biofuels are considered "green".

Two steps back IMO


Biofuel production from non-wastes sources emits much more CO2 from a well-to-wheels standpoint per unit of energy in the final product...

But, for some reason, these biofuels are considered "green".

Two steps back IMO


Biofuel production from non-wastes sources emits much more CO2 from a well-to-wheels standpoint per unit of energy in the final product...

But, for some reason, these biofuels are considered "green".

Two steps back IMO


we are heading into an ice-age, we need all the co2 pumped into the atmosphere we can get.. hopefully soon we will be in the age of fusion and have plentiful heat to keep us warm. We have to get all the oil out of the tar sands out before the glaciers start advancing again.

Thank God for Canada!

So the yanks want the oil and the gas, so they buy it from the canucks and now everyone want to blame the canucks for emitting more CO2 than they agreed to for kyoto? Seems to me that the yanks need to be changing the way they use the energy and the canucks need to get the yanks to pay to offset the carbon emissions.

Hey, how come nobody blames the arabs or the Norwegians or the Nigerians for their contributions to global warming?

Native Texan

This process only uses electricity to liquify the tar sands, it gets 80-90% in a YEAR and does not require additional water supplys it uses the water already contained in the sands. The electricity can be from any source, nuclear being the cheapest, then coal, then natural gas. no steam needed. Canada has been talking for years about using CANDU 6 or 9 reactors for process steam to fuel SAGD recovery the heat energy would be better used driving turbines to fuel this method as SAGD takes 10 years to get to 80% and this process has been tested to get the same return at a year. 1.66 trillion barrels is 55 years of WORLD supply. $4 in electricity cost was computed using natural gas power, nuclear would be even cheaper. A CANDU reactor can be built in 3 years on time and on budget because unlike the US once a reactor design is certifed you can build them in mass without the endless frivalous law suits that plauge the US nuclear industry from the rabid antinuke left. Thank you Canda for being a good partner to the how about building some CANDU reactors for us and shipping them south of the border. Texas would gladly take 10 or so. I own 4000 acres in North Texas NIMBY uh no heck yea in my back yard. I'll take 4 CANDU 9 in an energy park and laugh all the way to the bank.


@ Herm

You are right, Canada is the best.

But gas will not last long or it might get just too expensive to process all that tar sands. A prudent Canadian will invest in nuclear processing to complete the extinction of all that oil. All Canadians want to keep the profit margin as high as possible and not be struck in the near future without anymore cheap gas to finish the job.

The ice age is just around the corner so there is no time to delay. Go nuclear!


A 450MW nuclear facility can produce enough heat and electricity to process 30000 barrels of syncrude a day. At the present production levels of the oil sands in Canada (1 million barrels/day), that would mean at least 33 reactors. With the estimated amounts that the US wants to get from Canada (5 million barrels/day) that would be at least 167 reactors. Even worse.

To maximize the plant to use for the tar sands, requires smaller plants with single cores in multiple locations. Althouth multiple core plants would be cheaper to build, they would be of less use in the production of oil than single core ones. Even with increases in efficiency from the studies date, it would require a large number of reactors.

The artic is warming faster than a lot of modeling has predicted.

Yah right, an ice age is around the corner. In a pig's eye.

Andrey Levin

Inadequate supply of natural gas is not a problem for tar sand operations. NG is used because it is readily locally available, do not require extensive capital investment, and is relatively cheap. New pipelines from the North are already under construction, and it is always coal/char/tar to gas technologies, like this one:

Andrey Levin


Advanced CANDU reactors are 1000 MW electricity, with additional 2000 MW of waste heat, each. You probably want to re-calculate your number of reactors.

Additionally, why continue to repeat old lies? Arctic sea ice as of June30 is about 1 million square kilometers bigger than last year, and is back to average for last decade. And why you do not say that sea ice in Antarctica is at record high for all 30 years of satellite (the only one reliable) observations? And global sea level is on decline from 2006 (contraction due to lower temperature)? And global temperatures dropped by 0.6C (about all warming in 20 century) in last two years.? And concentration of CO2 in atmosphere is on decline compared with year earlier (due to higher solubility in colder oceans)?


Sadly there are very few people around with the wisdom and motivation for long term planning.

I have kids, eventually they will have kids. The world will spin long after I am gone. 100 years is a small span of civilised history.

You can talk all you like about nuclear plants, energy indepedance and the like. To me it is all short term thinking. Maybe it is the "smart" thing to do, looking after your immediate wants and needs. Very little of the conjecture is wise.

Leave most of coal, oil shales, gas etc in the ground. Plan to stretch out the resources for at least 1000 years. (yeah.. I'm not unrealistic. I don't really see that as a vote winner) But, it's the correct and unselfish thing to do.

Using nuclear so you can exploit another limited resource even faster. While at the same time consigning bilions of tons more CO2 into the atmosphere (this century some more!). You must be in GW denial. It just makes me laugh to think how stupid that is.

Give a little more thought to sustainability. Propose something your Grandchildren will be proud of.

thnxs .... from the ranter of the day


Old Confucious he says:

Know where you're going before you head out on a journey.


Aym, as a green, you must realize the benefit of minimizing the environmental damage, if oil sand exploitation can’t be stopped. Gas is becoming so expensive, it seems a waste to burn it rather then keeping people from freezing to death when their gas heat runs out.

Your reputation for accuracy is high, if what Andrey Levin says is true, come forward to justify the accession or recant. I just don’t have the background to know what is true, but I am very interested.


I think Andrew has a point. Just look at Russia.

Although the Soviet Union's fleet of nuclear power plants is pretty notorious in the west, nuclear power provides a smaller fraction of Russia's electrical generation than it does in the United States. Instead, Russian cities are actually dependent upon natural gas for a very large proportion of their electrical generation and heating. There are a variety of reasons for this, the main ones being geographic. Russian coal reserves are mediocre, and they tend to be located far from urban centers. Because gas is easily transportable and the Soviet Union possessed it in abundance, this was a logical choice for domestic energy needs. Similar considerations, however, fed into the Soviets' enthusiasm for nuclear power. Nuclear plants could be sited in energy-poor regions of the European USSR, such as Ukraine. This freed up oil and gas for sale to western nations in exchange for desperately needed hard currency.

Today, Russia's gas reserves have become a source of wealth and power. This produces a significant incentive to restrain domestic consumption to maximize the profitability of state-owned Gazprom. This is one of the primary reasons that Russia is building new nuclear plants.

There is another reason, however: the Russians understand that their days as a net gas exporter are numbered. This isn't likely within the immediate future, but sixty years from now Russian gas reserves will probably be largely depleted. It is clear that by this time the Russian government plans to create some kind of plutonium economy, and that they hope to dominate the fission-powered future as much as they do the fossil-fuel present.

This should give serious pause to anyone considering major increases on natural gas as an energy source. It is not likely that sustainable Biofuels will be available in the quantities needed to supplant natural gas for the range of applications it is currently used. What will happen when gas runs out? Obviously, nothing good. Indeed, it would rapidly become untenable as gas becomes scarcer and more expensive.

Even with aggressive efficiency measures, by the late 21st century this path would have played itself out. The fact that the nation with the world's largest natural gas reserves doesn't think that natural gas has a very bright future is a sign that we should be divesting from dependence on it. Let’s keep it in the ground. It is more precious than oil.


I really don't need to recount the number of reactors. The ideal size of the reactor is the smaller kind, since you have to apply both the heat produced and the electricity to oil sands production. In the study in question, because of limitations of heat delivery, a CANDU9, which would have triple the heat output of a CANDU3 (which I used) would only deliver a doubling of oil production. Increasing the size of the reactor does not increase the production in a linear fashion. A newer technology reactor would give minimal advantages in terms of production. Since the question was not in terms of cost or efficiency of the reactor, it doesn't matter about the running of the reactor itself, just it's products, heat & electricity, to be used in the extraction process, which I admitted would be better by now, but not by much. The number of reactors is done by minimizing the output of reactors according to the bang for the buck effect on production. Larger reactors would require a larger overall cumulative output for the same oil output.

Arctic ice is not back to normal but continuing a downward trend of ice loss. Not only that, but the extent of ice loss means that the ice extended from winter was a much thinner, more easier to melt ice. Arctic ice sheets continue to melt and show a downward trend in area. Try looking up the breakup of the Ward Hunt Ice sheet that survived for thousands of years and will soon be gone and this occured in a fairly benign summer season. It is going one direction and that is not growth. Trying to say that it is a larger size than last year's historic minimum is facitious. It is definitely cherry picking the data.

"Canadian ice shelves have undergone substantial changes in the past six years, starting with the first break-up event on the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, and the loss of the Ayles Ice Shelf,” said Dr. Luke Copland of the University of Ottawa. “These latest break-ups we are seeing have come after decades of warming and are irreversible,” said Dr. Derek Mueller of Trent University.

This site shows the area extent perfectly graphed and it is interactive.

Antarctic ice levels are much different than that of the arctic due to the fact that there is a land mass. East Antarctica is most likely gaining snow cover but the west is losing. With that in mind, overall levels should show an increase but that was never a question. Our understanding always included the postulation that precipitation levels would increase in the antarctic as the ocean warmed due to increases in atmospheric moisture. Temperatures though show a warming in the outer areas with a increasing coldness in the interior. What is worrysome is the continued breakup of the west antarctic ice sheet. Complete collapse of the west antarctic ice sheet would cause a sea level rise of 5-6m. At present, this ice sheet is breaking up, slowly, intermittently but it is breaking up.

TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason-1 satellite data show an increase of sea levels. The only interpretation that shows a decrease would be by overly concentrating on seasonal effects or small time scale variations. For example, looking at the graph from Colorado University for 2000 would give similar level trends that are similar to today's data, a sort of flattening out. The levels continued to increase afterwards and there is still no reason to believe that they will not in today's case since there is no underlying reason to believe that the system conditions have changed..

A 0.6 degree drop from what and where? Last year was one of the hottest years in the world on record according to NOAA. A number without a frame of reference has pretty much little to say and may have nothing to do with the question at all.

For the CO2 level, it's probably nothing more than the yearly seasonal variation. Just because the solubility pump exists, doesn't mean that it is the source of recent CO2 reductions (if they existed, which they don't). You certainly haven't shown any data to support increased CO2 ocean uptake. In fact since it is summer, the action of the solubility pump in the northern hemisphere should be lowered. Also the solubility pump only accounts for 2 Gt of carbon( Nature, 408, 184-187,2002), to max out in a few decades at 5 Gt. Between 2004 and 2006, the amount of carbon release from humans increased by 1 Gt from 7.4 to 8.4 (thats carbon not carbon dioxide). Recent figures put that rate increasing especially in light of developements in the 3rd world, China and India. There might be an economic slowdown in the west to help account for the lowered CO2 increases but the trend is still up and will be for the forseeable future.

As can be seen in the chart, CO2 levels shows very, very little in terms of decrease.

Frankly, what I find amusing is that I am required to supply proof. Meanwhile Andrey, whose past posts showed a leaning towards non-peer reviewed biased sites like CO2science should be allowed to post without showing his sources of reasoning or the fact that he is more than willing to accept non peer reviewed data or conclusions. Is there a grain of truth in the figures put out by Andrey? Yes but it is highly interpreted in my opinion, packaged to present a very narrow viewpoint. A viewpoint not shared by the majority scientific opinion. So take what I've said and what he said and check it out but make sure the support is academic and not from some biased source. I include green orgs as well as ones like CO2science or others.

Andrey Levin

Pier reviewing does not means much, especially in climate “science”. And climatic data IS NOT PIER REVIEWED AT ALL. So give it a rest, Aym.

In convenient graphic form last published data could be viewed here:

Global temperatures:

Arctic sea ice extend:

South Hemisphere record high sea ice:

Sea level drop beginning from 2006:

And no, it is not cherry picking, all graphs are produced from official data, and I verified it from different sources.

I will present data on CO2 reduction later (have troubles to find it in graph).

To be honest, all changes are short-time, last 1-2 years, and do not say much about medium-term climate trends. But two things are already perfectly clear.

First, fear stories about continuing warming are bull: warming stopped about 10 years ago, and all meaningful data (oceans surface and depth temperature, ocean level drop, satellite global temperatures, global sea ice extend, etc.) points out that Earth is cooling second year in a row.

And second, all climate models (the only justification of antropogenic global warming) failed to predict current trends, and this spectacular failure once more demonstrates that climate models have zero prediction skills.


Luckily the future of the world is not in the hands of of comedy armchair scientists.

I'd like to invite any readers who made it this far to research two important topics for our childrens well being.

1) Population growth.
2) Long term availability of limited resources.


Yes it is cherry picking. By looking at the winter maximums, the antacrtic is easily seen to be higher than it actually is. Just as the so called flatlining of the temperature over the last 10 years. By picking up 1998, which was an exceptionally hot year, following years look cooler in comparison, which is not good science. Look at the moving averages and it becomes obvious that the trend is towards higher temperatures.

And as I have said before. Go for non-partison sites of which climataudit definitely isn't. All data and arguements there present a scewed interpretation presented for a single purpose. If you only go there for the purpose of reinforcing bias then that's all you will get.

Climate science isn't peer reviewed? My guess is yours isn't or the sites you go to. Peer review is a basis for all scientific work and the work in climate science is reviewed. Very much so. Whether it is directly climate related or from the consequences of a warming climate. Climteaudit isn't a peer reviewed site and it never will be. It's just another obviously biased site that filters information for everyone who shares the same opinions and doubts and that only reinforces them. No original actual work done. 4th or 5th hand info. No need to think, Steve does it for you.

AGW is accepted by all recognized national and international organizations. That is at least 3rd hand info.

You haven't talked about the continuing collapse of the western part of antarctica which is a fact or it's consequences. You haven't explained the NSDIC information which shows conclusively a shrinking arctic. The hawaiian information is the most accepted data of present CO2 levels. As for the graph from Colardo, read the left hand side. Delta MSL, stands for mean sea level and that line is the trend. The factors that contribute to the trend haven't changed. A flattening out period due to random variations doesn't hide the fact that the trend is positive and will continue to be positive. Besides which a flattening of a delta graph is a slowing of the rate of change, not of the change itself. The graph still states an increase of ocean level of 3.2 +- 0.4 mm/year. Try not to knash those teeth in another round of assuming you're correct only to have me crush it. I'm sure you will continue to scour the net now for contrary information now that it doesn't agree with your world view.

Other factors that led to belief of arctic warming. Growth of geopolital moves that are happening now in the presence of a warming arctic to claim territory or rights. Zone creep as biological organisms change geography in a warming climate in altitude and latitude. Take a look at them, especially zone creep. There is definite signs of temperature increases even in something as innoculous as gardening magazines. Or since you live in western Canada try the white pine beetle infestation, and the infestation killing evergreens and all of them tie it in with warming trends in the climate.

So keep going to brainwashing denialists sites. They come up with the most amusing concepts. They may be internally logical but shine a little light on them and they wilt.

Andrey Levin


First, I was talking about climatic data, not printed articles. Data is not pier-reviewed.

Second, I presented solid measured officially published data, in graph form. One could eyeball it and see by himself what is going on in last two years. Climate Audit is superb in presenting and discussing most up-to-date data, made mostly by respected scientists in the field. You are free not to believe their interpretations, but data is data and speaks by itself.

Third, do not bother to lecture me on climate in North-West. Data from NW lighthouses is one of the most exact and complete in the whole world, and more than century of reliable record indicates zero temperature increase or decrease (subject to fluctuation due to ENSO index, quite linearly). So find other explanations for pine beetle disaster, because climate change is not gonna cut it.


Some people have not gotten the message: AGW is
D E A D. Dead. And buried. And it is hilarious to watch the back peddling of the now chagrined believers - like the AGW proponents in Sydney who claim this is just "soft hail." Pathetic.

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