menu 1.2.1
menu 1.2.2

Print Follow Enerhope on TwitterRSS

Does Not Significantly Exacerbate


Does Not Significantly Exacerbate  

Tom Markowitz - Friday, July 05, 2013

Welcome to Enerhope

July 3, 2013

© Enerhope.com    July, 2013

“…does not significantly exacerbate”

President Obama made it quite clear in his June 25th speech at Georgetown University: Alberta bitumen will not enter the USA via the Keystone Pipeline, unless the production, refining, transportation and use of petroleum from Alberta bitumen can be shown to emit no more greenhouse gas (“GHG”) per litre of fuel than the alternative.

For the record, here are President Obama’s exact words:

 "...and by the way, it (our energy strategy) is certainly going to be about more than just building one pipeline.

“I know there's been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone Pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian Tar Sands down to refineries in the Gulf, and the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That's how it's always been done. 

"But I do want to be clear: allowing the Keystone Pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interest, and our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It's relevant."

How much carbon pollution would be caused by Alberta bitumen? How much GHG would be produced by the production, transportation, refining and consumption of petroleum from Alberta bitumen? How would this emission of GHG compare with the emissions by the alternative?

What is the Alternative?

Some of us believe that the best alternative to petroleum from the “evil Tar Sands” would be a peaceful, fragrant meadow, where cute, fluffy little bunny rabbits would romp and play. Once per year, the friendly farmer would harvest from this meadow the switch grass, to be processed into motor fuel.

Is this “best alternative” a realistic alternative to petroleum from bitumen?

President Obama mentioned that the USA will still need fossil fuels in the near future:

“One thing I want to make sure everybody understands: This does not mean that we are going to stop producing fossil fuels. Our economy wouldn’t run very well, if it did, and transitioning to a clean energy economy takes time.”

The realistic alternative to USA imports of bitumen from Canada would be petroleum imports from other countries, including Iran and Venezuela. If American motorists cannot obtain gasoline from Canadian Oil Sands, they will buy it from other sources. Increases in USA domestic petroleum production will not satisfy USA total demand, for many decades.

How do GHG emissions from Alberta bitumen compare with GHG emissions from other sources of petroleum in the USA maket?

Several studies, from the Jacobs Study of 2009, to the IHS CERA Study of 2011 (references available on request), found that GHG emissions from the products of Canadian Oil Sands in the USA market emit 9% to 18% more GHG than the products of typical conventional petroleum. These studies calculated the “well to wheel” emissions of petroleum products, from production, to refining, to transportation, to consumption by consumers.

The studies also showed that by far the biggest source of GHG emissions from these petroleum products is the combustion of the products by consumers. 

Hollywood movie stars and hedge fund managers take note: 
If you really want to reduce GHG emissions from your transportation, travel by small car; do not travel by race car or SUV or white stretch limousine, or, better still, change your life so that you do not need a personal motor vehicle as much as before. You, not the the Alberta Oil Sands, are responsible for your GHG emissions.

As things stand, with conventional oil snds technology and practices, petroleum products from the Alberta Oil Sands in the USA market emit 9% to 18% more GHG than similar products from conventional petroleum.  Thus, with current technology and practices, the Keystone Pipeline may not meet President Obama’s criterion that the project would not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The design capacity of the Keystone Pipeline is 590,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen. If this 590,000 barrels per day, produced by current Oil Sands technology and practices, replaced petroleum from offshore sources, the USA’s GHG emissions would rise by about 20 megatonnes per year, or about 0.36% of the USA’s 2012 total GHG emissions.

Is there a new technology that can reduce GHG emissions from Oil Sands production, to eliminate the 9% to 18% difference in GHG intensity?

The Governments of Alberta and Canada have committed three billion dollars to develop Carbon Capture and Storage (“CCS”), wherein carbon dioxide (“CO2”) is separated from the exhaust streams of fossil fuel combustion, compressed to high pressure, piped to specific locations, and pumped into permanent storage in the ground at great depths. Alberta’s Climate Change Strategy (2008) lists CCS as Alberta’s major activity for greenhouse emission reductions.

Demonstration projects have proved the technical success of CCS. The CCS project at Weyburn, Saskatchewan has successfully stored over 28 megatonnes of CO2 since its completion in 1999.

However, the economics of CCS have been disappointing, except where the compressed CO2 forces more petroleum to the surface. In April, 2012, three major energy companies abandoned their plan to build the $1.4 billion (Canadian) Pioneer CCS plant beside the Keephills 3 coal-fired electricity generating station. The project was planned to capture one megatonne of CO2 per year for 10 years.

Can any non-CCS technology reduce the GHG emissions from Oil Sands operations, to a level equal to the emissions from conventional petroleum production?

The Jacobs Report of 2009 and Dr. Eddy Isaacs’ The Oil Sands in a Low Carbon Fuel Economy (2010) identified Cogeneration as a technology that would reduce the GHG emissions of Oil Sands production to the same range as GHG emissions from conventional petroleum.

What is Cogeneration? 

Cogeneration is the sequential production of useful mechanical energy and useful thermal energy in the same engine. 

Every engine that produces mechanical energy by burning fuel releases heat to its surroundings. In fact, only a minority of the fuel energy entering an engine is released as mechanical energy. The majority of the fuel energy is converted to heat, which must be released into the surroundings. 

When an automobile is travelling on the road, only about 20% of the fuel energy is converted to mechanical energy. The remaining 80% of the fuel energy is released as heat, through the radiator and the exhaust. 

In a Cogeneration system, this “waste” heat is captured for some useful purpose.

In the same automobile, in winter, some of this “waste” heat from the engine is captured to heat the passenger compartment and defrost the windshield. Thus, in the winter, the automobile engine is a Cogeneration system. The heat for the passenger compartment is free. The owner does not need to buy any additional gasoline to heat the passenger compartment.

This opportunity for Cogeneration exists in any engine that burns fuel to create mechanical energy. Spark plug engines, diesels, steam turbines and combustion turbines are all candidates for Cogeneration. 

Cogeneration is used in major process industries, e.g. petroleum refineries, pulp and paper, in large institutional buildings, (e.g. Foothills Medical Centre, Calgary), and in district heating systems in some countries.

Cogeneration is more efficient and produces fewer air emissions than its alternative. 

For a more detailed description of Cogeneration, please see Enerhope’s January, 2011 article, Cogeneration and Emissions Trading


Currently, in the Oil Sands, natural gas boilers produce large quantities of steam, which is used to separate the bitumen from the sand, or to recover bitumen from underground. These steam boilers are a large source of greenhouse gases.

At the same time, Alberta electricity customers, including many Oil Sands plants, receive their electric power from big, coal-fired, steam turbine generating stations in southern Alberta. The “waste” heat from these steam turbine power stations is dumped into the lakes and rivers. These non-cogenerating coal-fired generating stations are major sources of greenhouse gases.

If 50% of the existing natural gas boilers in the Oil Sands were replaced by natural gas-fired Cogeneration units, and the generated electricity were sold to the Alberta grid, replacing non-cogenerated, coal-fired electricity. Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions would drop by 23 megatonnes per year, or 10% of Alberta’s 2010 total. The total generated power would be about 5100 megawatts, which is less than Alberta’s minimum base load of about 7000 megawatts. (calculations available on request) The total greenhouse gas emissions per barrel of fuel product would actually be lower than the emissions for fuel from conventional petroleum sources. This calculation is based on 2010 data. Future savings would be even more impressive.

This Cogeneration opportunity in the Oil Sands was identified in Life Cycle Assessment Comparison of North American and Imported Crudes, a report to the Alberta Energy Research Institute, in 2009 (the Jacobs Report). 

The opportunities for Cogeneration in the Oil Sands were also identified by Dr. Eddy Isaacs, of Energy and Environment Solutions, in The Oil Sands in a Low Carbon Fuel Economy, a presentation at the University of Alberta in 2010. Isaacs identified the opportunity for Cogeneration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but admitted, “The methodology for cogen credits is uncertain.” (available on request)

The opportunities for Cogeneration in the Oil Sands are now greater than in the past, because:
1) Alberta is under great pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, especially since President Obama’s June 25th speech.
2) Natural gas prices have fallen, and show no sign of increasing.
3) The competing technology for emission reductions, Carbon Capture and Storage, appears to be economically unfeasible.

The Oil Sands industry itself is aware of the possibilities of Cogeneration. The Oil Sands Developers Group, Cogeneration and Power Infrastructure Group has surveyed the industry on the current extent of Cogeneration and the prospects for future expansion. Here is the URL of the 2012 Report of this group:  


According to the 2012 report, many Oil Sands are planning new Cogeneration plants, to provide a fraction of their electrical energy needs, and to provide some steam for their Oil Sands operations. However, most Oil Sands developers are not building Cogeneration plants to sell electrical energy to the Alberta grid. This reluctance to build extra Cogeneration for electricity sales to the Alberta grid is caused by economic, engineering, and regulatory factors.
1) The existing electrical transmission capacity between the Oil Sands area and Edmonton is limited to about 400 megawatts.
2) Potential revenues from electrical energy sales to the Alberta grid are risky and not sufficient, particularly during times of off-peak demand in the south.
3) Uncertainty exists over future environmental regulations or benefits.

In order to facilitate an transformation from base load coal to base load Cogeneration, Alberta needs:

1) A new, high-voltage transmission line between the Oil Sands area and southern Alberta. (currently planned)

2) An Emissions Trading system, that would discourage high-emission, coal-fired electricity, reward low-emission, gas-fired electricity, and allow credit for cogenerated steam. (Alberta’s current Specified Gas Emitters Regulation will expire in 2014, and should be replaced by a well-designed cap-and-trade system.) 

See Enerhope’s September, 2011 article, Alberta’s Baseline and Credit Emissions Trading System.  http://www.enerhope.com/_blog/Alberta's_Baseline_and_Credit_Emissions_Trading_System_-_September,_2011 

(A well designed cap-and-trade system would be more successful and more fair than the carbon tax which is currently under discussion in the Alberta Government.)   http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/albertas-bold-plan-to-cut-emissions-stuns-ottawa-and-oil-industry/article10762621/

3) The necessary infrastructure for electricity, natural gas and steam within the Oil Sands area. (an opportunity for government - utilities - industry collaboration)

4) A cooperative agreement among cogenerators, to insure individual cogenerators against the extra costs of power outages.

5) A positive regulatory attitude toward environmentally beneficial Cogeneration projects.

If pursued actively, Cogeneration in the Oil Sands would reduce GHG emissions, to meet the criterion that President Obama specified in his June 25th speech.

                                                          Copyright © EnerHope 2011. All Rights Reserved.                      
                                     Terms and Conditions    Privacy Policy   Disclaimer