Canada, Kyoto, and Crude

In the maneuvering this week in Durban, which is surely only a prelude to more serious negotiations that will take place over the next two-three years, Europe has been sharply demanding a follow-on agreement to Kyoto that will include mandatory emissions cuts or targets, China and the United States have cautiously edged toward the position that they may be open to such an agreement in principle--both seem wary of Europe's growing global clout at the world's Number One economic power, and leery of being cast in the coming years as climate policy pariahs. A small number of secondary players, Canada and Russia among them, have been tending to oppose the very idea of an agreement containing mandatory provisions.

The position of Canada, normally a high-minded team player in world affairs, is singular. Not only is it playing an obstructionist role in global climate emissions, it also is arguably the world's most flagrant violator of Kyoto commitments. Canada's annual greenhouse gas emissions, which were supposed to be cut per-Kyoto to 558 megatons by next year instead will be well over 700 megatons. The main reason for that vast discrepancy between intention and result? The boom in Alberta oil sands, which has made the province "the hottest place in Canada for job, investment, and growth," as Peter Fairley notes in the current issue of Technology Review.

Fairley's article has some useful take-home nuggets, among them:

--because extraction of sub-surface bitumen requires steam obtained generally from gas-fired plants, carbon dioxide emissions are much higher in oil sands operations than in regular oil drilling; in one operation Fairley visits and describes in detail, about 45 kilograms of carbon dioxide are emitted for every barrel of bitumen obtained

--accordingly, the "steam to barrel ratio" is an important measure of oil sand extraction efficiency, and of its climate cost; at three barrels of steam per barrel of oil in a typical current operation, it's shown little or no improvement since the late 1980s and may even have deteriorated

--what's the significance of Canada's oil sands bitumen for its neighbor to the south? already the United States imports twice as much oil from Canada--and twice as much from Mexico and Venezuela--as from Saudi Arabia

Yes, that's right: The United States imports four times as much oil from countries in the Americas as it does from Saudi Arabia

As long as you're rushing out to the newsstand to buy Fairley's article, you'll want to look at two other very nice features in the current issue of Technology Review: a photo essay describing in detail how Better Place's battery replacement system for EVs will work; and a long photo essay depicting miscellaneous large-scale renewable energy and rare earth mining projects in California's Mojave,ed

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