Significant failure in reporting tar sands greenhouse gas emissions

FORT MCMURRAY, AB, Oct. 1 /CNW/ - The extent of greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations is much worse than reported due to the failure of oil companies and governments to account for emissions from forest destruction, according to new research by Global Forest Watch Canada.

The research paper, "Bitumen and Biocarbon," shows for the first time that when the Boreal forest is disturbed and destroyed for tar sands development, significant amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted. Governments and industry do not measure or report these emissions. Global Forest Watch Canada (GFWC) produced the research paper with financial support from the Ivey Foundation, the EJLB Foundation, and Greenpeace.

"Governments and companies are working hard to downplay the impacts of tar sands operations, but it turns out that they don't even know the full extent of the problem," said Christy Ferguson, Greenpeace climate and energy coordinator. "What's worse, they're doing nothing to find out. Denial is not a climate strategy."

The research paper shows that when emissions from the destruction of the Boreal forest are factored in, greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations are significantly higher than reported. The research shows that under full development, the annual average release of carbon from the removal of natural ecosystems would be 8.7 megatonnes (mt) of carbon dioxide, with wide fluctuations over time. Current reported greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands operations, which do not account for these additional emissions, are about 36 mt a year. Planned expansion is expected to increase emission levels from operations alone to 120 to 140 mt a year.

The report estimates the amount of carbon dioxide released through land use changes from tar sands operations. Biological carbon, which is stored in living and decaying plants as soil organic carbon and as trees and other vegetation, is lost when natural ecosystems are disturbed or destroyed through mining of bitumen and the construction of roads, wellpads, mine pits, plant facilities and pipelines. Once disturbed this biological carbon becomes carbon dioxide and adds to Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.

"A key insight of the report is the analysis of the impact tar sands developments have on Boreal peatlands," said Ferguson. "Peatlands are one of the world's most important storehouses of soil carbon. Industrial activity in the tar sands is destroying peatlands, releasing carbon and eliminating a crucial natural mechanism. Even if peatlands are reclaimed, the carbon released through industrialization won't be replaced for thousands of years."

The analyses and maps in the report "give further insights into the growing impacts of oil sands development on Alberta's and Canada's greenhouse gas emissions."

Download a copy of the report: http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/gfwc

    Backgrounder available at Greenpeace press centre:
    http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/press/

For further information: Jessica Wilson, Greenpeace media and public relations officer, (778) 228-5404; Christy Ferguson, Greenpeace climate and energy coordinator, (416) 451-9354; Peter Lee, lead author, Global Forest Watch Canada executive director, (780) 422-5989 or cell (780) 914-6241; Brian Blomme, Greenpeace communications coordinator, (416) 930-9055