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Greenhouse gas emissions from Alberta oilsands higher than some countries:report

Alberta's oilsands produce more greenhouse gas emissions than some European countries right now and will produce more than all of the world's volcanoes in just 11 years if the pace of development continues, says a new report.

Alberta's oilsands produce more greenhouse gas emissions than some European countries right now and will produce more than all of the world's volcanoes in just 11 years if the pace of development continues, says a new report.

"Dirty - How the tar sands are fuelling global climate change" is set to be released Monday.

Greenpeace commissioned author Andrew Nikiforuk, a business and environmental reporter, to write the report.

"Nobody in Canada wants to talk about the scale issues," he said in an interview Saturday.

"The emissions are bigger than Estonia and Lithuania right now and in 2020 will be larger than countries like Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Denmark."

The report documents the "real" cost of the oilsands, which Nikiforuk says is the world's largest energy project.

"The major energy projects in the Middle East ... they don't come anywhere near - none of them approach the scale and capital intensity of the oilsands."

The report says almost $200 billion has been or will be invested in the projects in northern Alberta, and that includes not only the oilsands, but pipelines, refinery expansions and other associated infrastructure.

It adds that the liabilities are a nearly threefold increase in greenhouse gas emissions, enormous amounts of natural gas used and wasted to produce synthetic oil from bitumen - which consists of tarry pitch, or asphalt - and the "economic nightmare" of carbon capture and storage, a technology that has yet to be developed.

On Friday, the premiers of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan inked a deal pledging to work together on carbon capture and storage technology. In June, the Alberta government announced it was giving $2 billion to seven companies to fund three pilot projects.

But Nikiforuk points out that there is no commercial carbon capture and storage facility operating yet anywhere in the world.

The technology is being designed mainly for the coal-fired electricity plants operating in Alberta to fuel the energy-hungry oilsands and associated projects.

This is how it's envisioned to work: Carbon dioxide is captured from smokestacks and the gas is compressed and transported to be stored underground. The waste must be monitored for an undetermined amount of time, possibly for thousands of years, at an uncalculated cost to ensure that no leaks occur, says the report.

"Most governments are not good at monitoring things for five years, let alone a thousand years," Nikiforuk says.

He also says the money to pay for carbon capture and storage will come out of Canadian taxpayers' wallets.

"The estimate from the Carbon Capture Council in Alberta is that we're going to need $2 billion to $3 billion a year for the next 20 years. That's extraordinary, that's taxpayers' money ... Any fiscal conservative in the country should look at this and just be absolutely alarmed."

Nikiforuk compares it to the fledgling nuclear power industry nearly 50 years ago.

"It was going to be too cheap to meter, then it became too expensive to build and I think carbon capture and storage will probably leave the same kind of legacy."

Nikiforuk says Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former U.S. president George Bush are a lot alike.

"Both men share a real dissidence and skepticism of climate change, which is a real convenient ideology if you want to accelerate hydrocarbon production."

"The stuff cannot be produced economically and in great quantities to ease a global oil crunch," Nikiforuk says. "For most of the world, bitumen will not be an affordable substitute for cheap light oil and we've already seen the first economic correction in 2008 - the whole global economy tanked when oil hit $150 a barrel."

"How many times will we have to go through that to learn that lesson?"

 
 
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