Alberta tar sands pollution 2-3 times higher than corporate estimates

I’m not going to wade too far into the issue of the Keystone XL Pipeline because this blog focuses on issues directly related to Stillwater and Carbon counties, but I came across something today that I think is relevant.

Some basic facts about the pipeline:

The Keystone Pipeline System runs from the oil sands of Alberta to refineries in Nebraska, Illinois and Texas. It carries synthetic crude oil (syncrude) and diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the oil sands as well as light crude from the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana.

Three phases of the project are in operation and the fourth, the controversial Keystone XL,

The Keystone Oil Pipeline        (Click to enlarge)

The Keystone Oil Pipeline
(Click to enlarge)

would deliver oil from Hardesty, Alberta to  Steele City, Nebraska. This phase is awaiting presidential approval (see map).

Last Friday, the US State Department issued a long-awaited environmental review of the Keystone XL that found the project would have a negligible impact on climate change. Since President Obama has said that carbon pollution is his main criterion for approving the extension, the report is seen by many as clearing the way for Keystone XL approval.

Here’s what’s new and disturbing:

According to a peer-reviewed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released yesterday, the actual levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions released into the air from the Canadian tar sands are 2-3 times more than originally estimated.

Alberta Tar Sands

Alberta Tar Sands
(click to enlarge)

Make no mistake about it, PAHs are bad carbon pollutants. They are known for their “carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic” qualities, and are associated with lower IQ, childhood asthma, low birth weight, heart malformations, cancer, developmental delays and increased behavioral problems at age 6.

So here we are, four days after the State Department says the Keystone XL will have a negligible impact on climate change, and we discover that the original corporate estimates of PAH emissions on which the State Department report is based, which say that the oil sands are spewing the same amount of pollution as sparsely populated Greenland, are wildly underestimated.

I don’t pretend to know what this means for the Keystone XL, but my concern is that this is yet another reminder that we should not be relying on corporate data to make decisions about the impact of drilling on our water, our air, or our land.

We see it over and over again. The Montana Petroleum Association, The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, our elected officials, Environmental Corporation of America and others come into town and tell us everything will be great. They have a big economic interest in our believing that everything will be great. But we need to be smart enough to see what has happened elsewhere and manage drilling in a way that makes sense for our region.

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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1 Response to Alberta tar sands pollution 2-3 times higher than corporate estimates

  1. Pingback: Nebraska Public Service Commission approves Keystone XL Pipeline | Preserve the Beartooth Front

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