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Oilsands carbon intensity

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

A news study has been released by Argonne National Laboratory which shows that gasoline and diesel refined from the Canadian oilsands has a higher carbon impact than fuels derived from conventional domestic crude sources. The research was conducted in collaboration with Stanford University and the University of California at Davis and shows variability in the increase in GHG impacts, depending on the type of extraction and refining methods. Generally however, the report has found that fuel extracted and refined from Canada’s oilsands will release approximately 20% more carbon into the atmosphere over its lifetime than fuel from conventional domestic crude sources.

Hao Cai, Lead Researcher for the study said, “this is important information about the greenhouse gas impact of this oil source, and this is the first time it has been made available at this level of fidelity. Canadian oilsands accounted for about 9% of the total crude processed in US refineries in 2013, but that percentage is projected to rise to 14% in 2020.”


Cai and his fellow researchers used a life cycle approach, gathering publicly available data on 27 large Canadian oilsands production facilities. The study found the additional carbon impact of Canadian oilsands related primarily to the energy required for extraction and refining, methane emissions from tailing ponds and carbon emissions from land disturbance of oilsands field operations. Generally speaking, the carbon intensity of the fuel is higher for oil extracted insitu and for oil that is refined to synthetic crude. Depending on the extraction technologies and oilsands products, the carbon intensity of finished gasoline can vary from 8 – 24% higher than that from conventional US crudes.

Michael Wang, Fuel Cycle Analysis Expert at Argonne said, “it was common knowledge that Canadian oilsand extraction was energy intensive, but no study was able to quantify that intensity with this level of detail and certainty. This information will be important for industry and policy makers as they chart a path forward to meet the fuel demands of the US, while minimising the environmental impact of that fuel.”

Edited from press release by Claira Lloyd

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