Ethanol vs Oil Sands

  • Wednesday, 22 April 2015 00:00

April 22, 1970. That’s the first time Earth Day was celebrated. But more than a celebration, Earth Day was meant as a day for a serious discussion of the environmental problems we face.

Towards that end, we’d like to mark Earth Day 2015 with a comparison of oil sands and ethanol and underline that the choice we have in determining our energy future will play a significant part in our planet’s future.

While our crude oil imports have fallen in recent years, crude oil from Canada still accounts for a significant amount of the fuel used in the United States. According to the EIA, crude from Canada in January was more than crude imports from all countries in the Middle East combined.

But all this crude from Canada, especially from the Alberta oil sands, comes at a steep price to our environment.

In a panel discussion held by the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, ARC Financial’s chief energy economist, Peter Tertzakian says that the lifecycle (wells-to-wheels) emissions from oil sands crude is 10 to 15 percent more carbon intense than the shale oil produced here. On just a wells-to-refinery basis, he says oil sands crude is actually two to three times more carbon intense than shale oil.

In fact, TransCanada’s Corey Goulet (he’s the Vice-President for the Keystone Pipeline project), who was at the same panel discussion, admitted that oil sands crude emits more greenhouse gases than light crude oil.

Similarly in February this year, in a letter from the EPA to the State Department, the former said that lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from the development and use of oil sands crude is 17 percent greater than emissions from average crude oil refined in the United States.

Greenhouse gas emissions aren’t the only side effect of producing crude from the oil sands. According to this report, a byproduct of mining in the oil sands is a fluid waste that’s also called tailings. And it’s apparently toxic in high concentrations. This waste is stored in tailing ponds which in turn has had an adverse impact on its surrounding environment. The video below has some pretty gruesome images.


Considering all of the above, it’s quite clear that we need less crude from the oil sands, not more. Instead, we need more renewable fuels like ethanol. As we’ve noted on many occasions, data from the Argonne National Laboratory shows that greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol is, on average, 44 percent less than crude oil.

Analysis conducted by the University of Illinois earlier this year concluded that CO2 emissions in Minnesota would be reduced by 358,000 metric tons a year if all gasoline in the state was converted to E15 from E10. That’s the same as removing 75,368 passenger vehicles from our roads for a year.

If one were to compare E15 to E0 (gasoline with no ethanol), the CO2 savings would amount to 1.07 million metric tons which is the equivalent of removing 225,895 cars from our roads.

So if we truly are serious about saving our planet, then there's only one option available for our energy future. And it's biofuels.

Earth Day 2015 Pics Social Media 2