IEA: Canadian Oil Sands Not to Blame for Global GHG Emissions

During an interview this week in Ottawa, IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol said that continued development of Canada’s oil sands and addressing climate change concerns can go hand in hand.

Noting that Canada is not a significant source of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, Birol said, “Compared to the major emitting countries, this is not peanuts, it is a small fraction of peanuts.”

Indeed, government data shows that Canada accounts for only two percent of the world’s emissions and the oil sands, specifically, make up just 0.2 percent. And while the rate of some countries’ emissions continue to grow, Canada has made a concerted effort to address environmental concerns associated with their energy production- since 1990, GHG emissions associated with every barrel of oil sands crude has been reduced by 29 percent.

Combined with the recent installment of an independent environmental monitoring agency in Alberta and efforts such as the Quest carbon capture and storage project developed by Shell, Chevron and Marathon Oil, Canada is actively asserting itself as a market leader in forward-looking, responsible energy production.

With that in mind, it makes it all the more logical for the U.S. to focus its reliance on Canadian resources with projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline and supporting the further development of the oil sands. As Birol said in the same interview, “There are some countries who have the potential to win, but if they do not take the necessary steps, they can be losers. And I believe Canada is one of them.”

Canada’s oil production is on the rise-  IEA forecasts that output from the oil sands will increase from 1.6 million barrels per day in 2011 to 4.3 million by 2035,  and that should be viewed as a significant opportunity for the U.S. Already the oil sands play a pivotal role in our energy security and economy- an estimated 2,400 American companies from 49 states are involved in oil sands production and the Canadian Energy Research Institute predicts that between 2010 and 2013, oil sands projects will add $30 billion to the U.S. GDP.

Despite a boom in domestic oil and gas production in the U.S., Canadian crude will still play a key role in satisfying our demand for oil in the years to come. Taking steps to further strengthen North American energy security will not only stimulate our economy and create jobs, it will also go a long way towards demonstrating how efficient energy production and environmental awareness are not mutually exclusive.

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