The IHS Canadian Oil Sands Dialogue has released an update to its 2010 report comparing the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from fuels made from Canadian oil sands to those from other crude sources. The new analysis—updated to include more current data—found that total emissions from refined products that are wholly derived from oil sands are 4 to 18 percent higher than the average crude oil processed in the U.S. This level places oil sands on par with other sources of U.S. crude, including crudes from Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq and California heavy oil production.
When the oil sands products refined in the United States are considered – a mixture of oil sands and lower carbon blending components - the GHG emissions are, on average, 9 percent higher than the average crude processed in the U.S.
The 2012 update follows the initial 2010 report, Oil Sands, Greenhouse Gases, and U.S. Oil Supply: Getting the Numbers Right. Both reports analyzed the complete “wells-to-tailpipe” life cycle—the extraction, processing, distribution and combustion of the refined fuel—to provide a comprehensive assessment of where oil sands fit in the spectrum of U.S. crude imports.
The original 2010 report had found the average for oil sands products refined in the U.S. was 6 percent higher than the average crude processed in the United States with total emissions from refined products wholly derived from oil sands being 5-15 percent higher than the average barrel.
The widening range in emissions estimates compared to the original report is the result of a more detailed estimate for U.S. oil sands imports—the latest update accounts for all major sources of oil sands production. However, the majority of the difference was due to increases in the estimate for GHG intensity of some oil sands extraction methods, such as SAGD dilbit, mining SCO and CSS dilbit.
These results do not necessarily indicate an increase in oil sands carbon intensity since 2010 but rather a revision of the results based on new studies that have applied different modeling techniques and data. The latest report is drawn from the results of 12 recent studies from government, academic and industry sources.
The new report also includes results measuring Canadian oil sands GHG intensity accounting for emissions that occur beyond the crude production and refining facilities such as the production and processing of natural gas used in oil production or emissions from off-site electricity production. When accounting for these “wide boundary” results the new report found that fuels produced solely from oil sands result in emissions 5 percent to 23 percent higher than the average crude processed in the U.S. with the average for oil sands products refined in the United States being 12 percent higher than the average barrel.
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