EDMONTON - Some energy industry players say a new Greenpeace-sponsored report uses unfair comparisons in claiming Alberta's oilsands are generating more greenhouse gas emissions than some European countries.
The report, written by business and environmental journalist Andrew Nikiforuk, said that by 2020, Alberta's oilsands will be producing more emissions than countries such as Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Austria.
David McColl, research director with the Calgary-based Canadian Energy Research Institute, said Monday the report unfairly compares Canada with those European countries.
"It's an apples to oranges comparison, he said in an interview. "We are really an economy that's driven, to a large degree, by the resource sector and by it's very nature it's energy-intensive. We're also a cold climate so we use a fair bit of energy.""
The report, entitled "Dirty - How the Tarsands Are Fuelling Global Climate Change," documents what it calls the "real" costs of the oilsands.
With about $200 billion expected to be invested in oilsands projects and related infrastructure, the report says there will be a threefold increase in greenhouse gas emissions. It also says enormous amounts of natural gas will be used and wasted to produce oil from the thick, tar-like bitumen.
"Does the oilsands use natural gas? said McColl. "Yes. Is it going to continue to use natural gas? Definitely. But the technology is improving." "
Researchers are investigating the use of steam and solvents to help get bitumen out of the ground and process it.
"What that would mean is that you're going to be using a lot less natural gas, so you're combusting less. You're going to be producing dramatically less emissions to get that barrel of oil," McColl said.
"We anticipate that the total industry use of gas will increase over time to a point where it could be substantial, relative to current consumption in Alberta. New technologies are likely to come in to help improve that."
Jerry Bellikka, a spokesman for Alberta Energy, said the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the industry in Alberta must be put into a global perspective.
"Energy production in Alberta is about 20 per cent of Canada's carbon dioxide emissions - ballpark. If you put it into global perspective, we're about one and a-half to two per cent in Canada of total emissions around the globe," he said.
Environment Canada has done computer models suggesting that by 2020, emissions from the oilsands could rise from four per cent of total emissions in Canada to 12 per cent, said Dan Woynillowicz, an analyst with the Pembina Institute.
Alberta has attempted to counter the negative greenhouse gas predictions by investing in carbon capture and storage. Even though it's facing a $7-billion budget deficit this year, the province has stuck with plans to spend $2 billion dollars on pilot projects.
It's a technology that's necessary and needs to be researched, said Bellikka.
But the Carbon Capture Council in Alberta has estimated that sequestering carbon underground from coal-fired power and oilsands plants could cost taxpayers up to $3 billion each year over the next 20-years, an amount Nikiforuk called "extraordinary."
"Canadians need to carefully weigh whether that is in fact the best use of public dollars to basically try to clean up coal-fired power or the oilsands with end-of-pipe technology versus actually investing in clean energy alternatives," said Woynillowicz.
The United States is spending six times what the Canadian government is on clean energy initiatives, he said.
"From our perspective, there's a real risk Canada is not positioning itself to be economically competitive with the United States or with other jurisdictions around the world that are focused on how they can produce clean energy, as opposed to what do we need to do to clean up dirty sources of energy," Woynillowicz said.
Scott Hennig, a spokesman with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the Alberta government is wasting money on such pilot projects, especially now that it has a record deficit.
Spending that $2 billion is expected to pull only about five megatonnes of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, Hennig said. That's not much when total emissions in Canada are estimated at over 700 megatonnes, he said.
It's "essentially costing taxpayers $400 dollars per tonne to capture and store carbon underground. That's an extremely expensive way to capture carbon."
He said when the Alberta government realized that it was facing a large deficit, it should have put a stop to the pilot projects.