Tar Sands Oil

Tar Sands Oil Laser Talk

This page was updated on 05/10/18 20:09 CDT.

Question:  How will Carbon Fee & Dividend affect oil from tar sands?

Answer:  There are two serious climate issues with tar sands oil.

First, producing fuels from tar sands emits more CO2 than production from conventional crude oil. Tar sand crude – also referred to as bitumen – can’t be drilled and pumped like regular oil, but must be mined or “steamed” out of the ground, heated, and separated from the sand. [1] Even then, it can’t be put into a pipeline until it’s diluted with thinner, lighter hydrocarbons, and refining it takes an extra step called cracking. All of this energy-intensive processing makes its life-cycle emissions 8 to 37 percent higher than conventional crude oil. [2]

Second, development of so-called “unconventional” fuels like tar sands adds to the worldwide pool of carbon that is likely to be burned. If all of the known tar sands are exploited, they would add almost 700 billion barrels [3,4] to world oil reserves of a little over 1500 billion barrels. [5]

The Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal, because of its predictably rising price signal, would tend to steer investment capital away from more carbon-intensive resources like tar sands, making it less likely that they would ever be burned.

  1. “Unconventional fossil fuels factsheet.” University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems (2017).
  2. Cryderman, K. “Alberta’s oil sands crude: the science behind the debate.” The Globe and Mail (19 Jun 2017).
  3. “Athabasca oil sands.” Wikipedia (26 Jan 2018).
  4. “Oil reserves in Venezuela.” Wikipedia (12 Dec 2017).
  5. “Rystad Energy annual review of world oil recoverable resources.” Rystad Energy (20 Jun 2017).