Carbon Capture Won't Solve the Tar Sands - Canada's Environment Minister

it’s official. Canadian Environment Minster Jim Prentice fessed up to what experts have been saying all along: that carbon capture and storage (CSS) is close to useless for mitigating the massive emissions from the Alberta tar sands.

Canadian Prime Minister Harper is no doubt pissed that his potential leadership rival has gone off message on such an important issue of spin.

In an editorial board meeting with Globe and Mail Prentice admitted: “CCS is not the silver bullet in the oil sands.”

Strange. That’s not what his boss said when he committed at least $650 million in taxpayer’s dollars towards this bitumen boondoggle. Harper is a big booster of CSS, stating that:

“This new technology, carbon capture and storage, when fully commercialized … will collect carbon dioxide emissions from oilsands operations and coal-fired electrical plants and seal them deep underground.”

It also obvious that Harper either didn’t read, or care about, the secret memo from his own scientists several months earlier stating exactly the opposite:

“Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” the notes say. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”

Even using CSS at upgraders is largely a red herring since these facilities are increasingly nowhere near the tar sands. Much of the raw bitumen is now bound for processing south of the border.

So if CSS has almost no utility for reducing tar sands emissions, why does the Prime Minister of Canada keep claiming it does?

The simple reason is that Harper and the Alberta government are terrified that meaningful cap and trade legislation moving through the US Congress will make the already marginal economics of the tar sands even worse.

A recent report showed that oil prices might have to top $110 per barrel to make meaningful emission cuts profitable.

Even with a whopping $2 billion in additional CSS funds from the Alberta government, tar sands operators are giving this supposed panacea a pass.

This year, Shell Oil reneged on a commitment to reduce carbon emissions from a $13.7 billion expansion to conventional levels, even though this exposes them to litigation from environmental groups that threatens their project permitting.

Of course even if CSS worked perfectly at the tar sands without evaporating profitability, it would do nothing about the enormous downstream emissions from burning all that refined oil in cars – four times the production emissions.

None of this has stopped the Harper and Alberta government from shoveling billions in Canadian taxpayers money towards this unproven technology that has yet to be commercialized anywhere in the world.

Yet in the last federal budget, Harper allocated virtually all “green” stimulus money towards CSS - giving virtually nothing, to wind, solar or other green technologies such as modernizing the grid or promoting energy conservation.

Renewable industry representatives were naturally disgusted. Canadian Wind Energy Association president Robert Hornung predicts that existing federal funding may even run out before the end of the coming fiscal year.

“Our ability to compete with the United States for investment in wind energy projects and manufacturing opportunities will decline as a result of this budget. At a time when the United States has made measures to support renewable energy deployment a key component of its plans to stimulate the US economy, Canada is moving in the opposite direction.”

In contrast, President Obama has invested $67 billion towards the renewable energy, stating clearly this is a pillar of the US economy in the coming century. The US is now investing six times as much per capita towards growing their green energy sector.

We all know that the country that harnesses this new energy source will lead the 21st century,Obama told the world.

That country will clearly not be Canada.


If I weren’t a confirmed atheist this would be proof there is a god.  Not only does it indicate that the public concensus is coming around to the scientific one, it also is a pretty good sign that the wheels are coming off this minority government.  If Harper can’t keep his environment minister on a short leash on this issue, one that he is so massively concerned with, I think maybe we should be cueing up the “Na-na, na-na na na, Hey Hey Hey – goodbye”  audio for Steve.

The times, they are a’ changin’


What’s really sad about the whole thing is the fact that they are throwing money around like our problem with the environment is a high-stakes poker game. Totally unconscionable. They should be ashamed of themselves. What we need is consistent, constant and concerted effort to stop harmful practices so that we can save the environment, for real.

Jim Davis Inc

Readable spam, and on topic too, (well apart from the spam bit)? Now if we could only teach Paul S & Co to read something other than denial blogs for their education we would be making progress.

5% to 15% more CO2 emitted in total then regular oil production and consumption is massive??

Until the world stops using oil, the tar sands will be here. They provide a critical security of supply that Middle Eastern countries and others can not offer.

The reason the world is using tar sands now, soon to be oil shale next, is because its becoming increasingly rare to find easy oil.  These are far less effecient and expensive so its really a sign that peak oil looms.

The oil sands are touted as a resource equivalent to a second Saudi Arabia. This is the last thing the world needs. There are only so many fossil fuels we can burn while still having a decent shot of avoiding catastrophic climate change. As a result, fossil fuels are an industry with no long-term future. This is indirectly demonstrated by the shamefully weak greenhouse gas mitigation targets adopted by Alberta. They know that even if CCS development progresses perfectly, it will not let them bring their emissions in line with what is sustainable. That’s why they can only hope to have reduced emissions to 14% below 2005 levels by 2050, when the world as a whole needs to have cut them to around 80% below 1990 levels, and rich places like Canada will need to have cut by even more.


Oil is a blessing, not a curse. Even if the world reduces CO2 emissions, oil will remain a critical and invaluable fuel supply.

Its likely a combo of both not an either or.  People of the past would have said much the same about horses forever being a critical and invaluable part in the transport of people and goods but we know things change.  While it seems likely that oil will be a significant part of our lives the nature of its limitedness means the world will eventually have to move on

In a world where carbon emissions are constrained, either through carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems, companies which proactively position themselves can both reduce their business risks and find new sources of competitive advantage.  

If oil and oil products are taxed on the amount of carbon dioxide generated in producing that oil, then oil is no longer just a commodity. Significant cost and marketing advantages will accrue to the company that delivers “low carbon” oil.

Specific opportunities might be:

  1. Oil produced from carbon dioxide flooding of old oil reservoirs (CO2 enhanced oil recovery – EOR). Carbon dioxide remains stored in the oil reservoir, so the net emissions from production are actually negative.
  2. Sequestering the carbon dioxide emitted by heavy oil upgrading. The synthetic crude oil would initially have higher carbon emissions associated with its production, but after CO2 capture and storage, emissions could be reduced to below those from conventional oil production.
  3. Gasifying petroleum coke and other residuals from petroleum refining that would otherwise have been burnt in power plants. The synthesis gas so produced can provide hydrogen, it can fuel efficient gas turbines or go into petrochemicals. Carbon can be captured from the synthesis gas prior to it use and stored in depleted oil and gas reservoirs or deep saline aquifers.
  4. Branding any distinctive stream, such as that coming from gas-to-liquids or coal-to-liquids conversion, as a niche or premium product.
  5. Blending biologically derived fuels (biofuels) with conventional petroleum products or using biomass in the production process.

If the carbon emissions from power plants, oil refineries and petrochemical plants are capped, companies that find a cost effective way of reducing their emissions will be able to

  1. Reassure shareholders that their business is sustainable, improving share performance and lowering their cost of capital.
  2. Avoid paying any penalties for exceeding their emissions quota.
  3. Sell any surplus emissions reductions into a market for carbon credits, thus generating additional revenue.

Effective carbon management will come only through :

  1. Having a carbon measurement and accounting system in place. This provides both management information and the necessary verification for regulatory and disclosure purposes.
  2. Anticipating market and regulatory demands.
  3. Simultaneously exploring a number of business options, likely to be in the areas of :

  • Improved energy efficiency.
  • Fuel and energy carriers.
  • Production technology.
  • Carbon capture and storage opportunities.


The first step in great leadership is facing reality. My hearty congartulations and encouragement, Jim. One small correction, however, if you don’t mind. They are called the Athebasca Tar Sands. Always have been and you know it. Calling it “oil sands” is like calling iron ore “cars.” Apart from that, please do consider that

1. Whether within 10 years or 40, the entire planet will be substantially converted to alternative energy sources; and

2. The longer Canada buries it’s head in tar sands and other fossil fuels, the greater will be our handicap as an energy provider in the world of our kids.

It’s just good business to start the change, Jim. As well as being responsible husbandry of a beautiful planet. Good on ya. Really good.

When so many in the media are writing alarmist nonsense about alleged

catastrophic humanmade global warming, and Earth is now actually cooling,

it is immaterial whether the Alarmists are liars or mere imbeciles.

Climate alarmists are all engaged in a huge costly deception which will

place excessive, almost limitless political power in the hands of the ruling

elite, at the expense of the average human being, democracy and freedom.

Climate alarmists advocate massive misallocation of scarce global

resources to address the false crisis of global warming, when real crises

that kill tens of millions every year, like poor sanitation, malaria and

poverty, go wanting.

This is a highly immoral act of historic scope, yet Alarmists have the gall

to say that “Deniers” are immoral!


Kyoto and other such costly, wasteful and wholly ineffective CO2 abatement programs are supported by scoundrels and imbeciles, and they are masters of dishonesty and misinformation. 

As the truth becomes more apparent with time, let these climate alarmists

bear the full shame of their odious behaviour for the rest of their lives.

You know how to turn a loaf of bread into a chicken? “Phlogiston”  (the man who dares to be known by not his real name) does…… just repeat it ten times….

Poor Mr Harper is just trying to get some climate brownie points and some dumb subordinate gets the idea tat green talk is supposed to accomplish something.

No Mr. Minister - get it straight - green talk is for nothing at all beyond political optics. That basic principle goes beyond government and oil companies. It’s pretty universal.

It’s all a big show minister - you’re messing up your lines.

Harper is indeed trying to win points with the ‘green crowd’ with this sort of talk. Canada has A LOT Of Oil under the Tar Sands. I think they should be more concerned about extracting and utilizing it than the environment. I believe all this global warming stuff is mumbo jumbo. Most of the CO2 goes in the atmosphere from volcanoes anyway.

What people tend to forget is that the purpose of a political party (and so politicians) is to be elected, the aim is to make the electorate grateful.  What is going on here it seems to me is that Minister has a different view of the electoral gain by saying something different to the Prime Minister.  This is not as cynical as it sounds.  

You either give hope and push for more jobs, wealth etc. or you tell the truth.  One appeals to the greed and business part of the electorate the other to the more mature and thinking part of the electorate.  Politicians will always defend what they do and say by talking about the public good or progress.  The truth is very few would do something that would be for the genuine benefit of society if that action was guaranteed to have them voted out of office.

Until public opinion is firmly, and electorally significantly, on the green side of politcs we can expect more and more politicians being appologists for big business with others taking a more progressive stand, with an eye to the future.

Seems like Canada is taking the short term perspective on the energy situation. Being an American, I am proud of Obama’s focus on renewable energy and cleaner sources of power. While they may cost us a big dollar in short term, it will pay off in terms of job creation, reduced dependence on foreign oil.

actually we are very sad about selling all of the sources in the earth…. As a usual, everything can be a money…. We should think about our environment first, before we do something ……be aware that the earth is too old for giving the pardon to human being that usually take many sources… the end, the earth can angry in form of disaster……..

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I agree with Canada’s Environment Minister. Not all carbon capture solve the main problem the tar sands. Keep try another choice to make better goal.

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