Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Groups Issue Report Card On Oil Sands Of Alberta

Jan 10: The oil sands of Alberta, Canada contain the second largest known reserve of oil in the world. With global demand for oil expected to increase nearly 40 percent over the next quarter century and production becoming increasingly dominated by Middle Eastern countries, Canada's oil sands are an important global resource. However, mining this oil is extremely environmentally costly--producing one barrel of oil from the oil sands generates three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil. Several environmental organizations are now calling for a halt on further oil sands project approvals until effective emissions reduction strategies are employed.

Pembina Institute and World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Canada) have released, Under-Mining The Environment, the Oil Sands Report Card, which they say is the most comprehensive comparative assessment of 10 of Alberta’s operating, approved or applied for oil sands mines. The mines, they say "for the most part, get a failing grade." According to a release, the average score among all oil sands projects surveyed was only 33 per cent, demonstrating substantial room for improvement across the sector. The leading operation in the survey was the Albian Sands Muskeg River Mine, scoring 56 per cent. The weakest operations were Syncrude and the proposed Synenco Northern Lights Mine both with scores of 18 per cent.

Oil sands mines were ranked on 20 different environmental indicators in five categories: environmental management, land impacts, air pollution, water use, and management of greenhouse gases. Companies were invited to complete the survey questionnaire and provided with two opportunities to comment on their performance. In total, seven of the 10 projects participated in the survey. Three companies, Total E&P, Syncrude and Canadian Natural declined to respond. Dan Woynillowicz of the Pembina Institute said, “There is growing concern in Alberta, in the rest of Canada and internationally about the environmental impacts of oil sands mining. Despite these concerns we found that oil sands companies are making weak efforts to manage their environmental impacts. We found only one mining operation came close to a passing grade and that substantial improvements in environmental performance were possible for all projects.”

Key findings of the report card include: (1) While the majority of oil sands operations have comprehensive environmental policies in place, only two companies provided evidence of having an independently-accredited environmental management system such as ISO 14001. (2) With the exception of the existing Albian Muskeg River Mine, no operation has voluntary targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions. (3) No project or company has publicly-reported targets to reduce water usage from the Athabasca River. (4) Despite more than 40 years of oil sands development, not a single hectare of land has been certified as reclaimed under Government of Alberta guidelines.

In the report card, Pembina Institute and WWF-Canada also provide recommendations to improve oil sands environmental management, including a need for greater transparency from Government and industry on environmental performance, the need to implement currently available best-practices and a stronger commitment to voluntary reductions in environmental impacts.

Access a release on the report from WWF-Canada with links to extensive information (click here). Access an overview of the report from the World Resources Institute (click here). [*Energy, *Climate]