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Alberta tar sands defended

May 03, 2009

A city report says Alberta is “serious about its plan for sustainable and environmentally responsible growth”, while an Environment Canada report last week painted a somewhat different picture. Ten Hamilton companies joined two city staff and councillor Lloyd Ferguson at an Edmonton trade show on the tar sands in February.

In an update going to the economic development and planning committee on Tuesday morning, department head Tim McCabe reports participation from Hamilton companies in the tar sands business forum was down this year, but that meant more opportunities for those who attended.

“This economic slowdown provided an opportunity for many companies to take advantage of the slower activity to spend extra time exploring new business partnerships which may not have been possible in their busier periods,” reports McCabe.

The tar sands development has been widely criticized as environmentally disastrous, but in his update to councillors on the $21,555 trip approved last November, McCabe paints a more positive picture.

“Alberta oil sands industry currently accounts for less than five percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and this is less than 0.1 percent of total global emissions,” writes McCabe. “Overall industry emissions are down by 27 percent per barrel since 1990, and Alberta was the first jurisdiction in North America to legislate industrial GHG emission reductions. The province of Albert has committed $4 billion toward climate change initiatives, including $2 billion for public transit and $2 billion for carbon capture and storage.”

An Environment Canada report on greenhouse gas emissions acknowledged that the country’s total emissions have climbed 4 percent in 2007 and are now 33.8 percent higher than the Kyoto target committed to by Canada. The report says by far the largest increase came in the “mining and oil and gas extraction” sector.

“Mining emissions have risen 17.1 million tonnes or 276 percent since 1990,” says Environment Canada. “While this sub-sector does include emissions for non-energy related mining, an increasing proportion is represented by those emissions from the activities associated with Canada’s oils sands which saw four new projects commence operations in 2007.”

The report also notes that “emissions associated with Mining and Oil and Gas extraction alone increased by 56.7 percent (8.4 million tonnes) between 2004 and 2007, largely due to increased activity at the Alberta oil sands.”

Household energy use went up in 2007 apparently because of a colder winter, but despite that emissions generated by individual Canadians are almost the same as they were 17 years earlier.

“Residential emissions were essentially the same in 2007 as they were in 1990 (up 0.2 percent of 0.1 million tonnes),” says the report. “Here the impact of the long term trend of improved energy standards for homes and the adoption of higher-efficiency furnaces and other improved appliances has served to reduce emissions.”

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