Earth Day Network

Oil, Oil Sands, And Climate Change

The production of petroleum from Canada’s oil sands, also called tar sands, is on the rise and will continue to rise. The ex-CEO of Mobil Corporation, Rawleigh Warner, Jr, warned in 1982 that burning Canadian Oil Sands fuels could cause a buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere that will likely cause serious environmental issues. Many media outlets and federal agencies have focused on the effects that increasing concentrations of CO2 are likely to have on the global climate.

“The switch to heavier fossil fuels has already caused much popular concern,” Warner wrote in an article published by the United Nation Environment Program, “primarily seen in some nations’ fear of the effects of acid rain, and the general fear that excessive use of these fuels may so build up CO2 in the atmosphere that the Earth’s temperature may increase, with some disastrous consequences. Both of these fears should be seriously addressed.”

Warner’s warning was not heeded and the development of oil sands continued to rise. Mobil merged with Exxon Corporation in 1999 to form the world’s largest oil company. Exxon Corporation’s scientists had also realized that the growing use of carbon-intense fossil fuels could speed up climate change. According to Exxon’s calculations, the extraction and burning of oil shale would release 1.4 to 3 times more CO2 than conventional regular oil.

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Conventional oil is a mixture of mainly pentanes and hydrocarbons recoverable through an oil well from an underground reservoir and is a liquid at atmospheric pressure and temperature. Conventional oil flows through an oil well without any additional energy and no additional processing or dilution is necessary. However, oil sands are another major oil source that is a mixture of mainly sand, water, clay and bitumen. Unlike conventional oil, oil sand cannot flow without being diluted or heated. Extracting oil sands requires a good deal more energy than conventional oil, which means more greenhouses gasses are released before the oil even reaches the pump.

The Keystone XL pipeline is an oil pipeline system which was planned to transport Canadian Oil Sands to Gulf Coast refineries in Canada and the United States that was commissioned in 2010. In November 2015, President Barack Obama announced his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline project. There are many reasons for this rejection. From an environmental aspect, the United States is now a global leader in the fight against climate change, and the rejection of this project is a major show of support to this fight.