The following op-ed from Michael Whatley, Executive Director of Southeast Energy Alliance, appeared on the Secure Our Fuels website here on June 14, 2010.
More than 2,100 miles separate the Canadian province of Alberta from the commonwealth of Massachusetts — and with no direct commercial flights connecting the two, it tends to feel even a whole lot further away than that.
But maybe the two are a lot closer connected than meets the eye. Consider that in March alone, Massachusetts imported 2.8 million barrels of petroleum products from Canada, including fuels derived from Alberta oil sands, the second largest known source of oil in the entire world. Resources developed, processed, refined and eventually delivered to the Boston Harbor – in the forms of gasoline, diesel fuel and home heating oil, upon which nearly one million Bay State residents depend to keep their homes warm during the winter.
Today, I have the privilege to be in Boston to participate in an energy summit with the environment minister of Alberta, on hand to discuss new ways that his province can partner with New England to achieve shared goals related to security, the economy and the environment. The one big challenge to that progress? The imposition of a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), a policy being developed right here in Boston that would greatly reduce your state’s access to Albertan energy, while greatly increasing your reliance on suppliers half-a-world away.
Last December, Gov. Patrick joined 10 other governors in signing an agreement on an LCFS. Proponents argue it will improve the environment by lowering the carbon content of your fuels, all without costing consumers and motorists a thing. The reality, though, is that this issue is a lot more complex than those proponents suggest – with consequences that will significantly Bay State access to secure, affordable Canadian energy.
Under the LCFS proposal being considered, transportation and home heating fuels would be given a carbon value based upon emissions produced over their lifetime. All fuels require energy for their production — but so-called heavier crudes (such as those found in Alberta) receive higher scores because they require marginally more energy to produce. Under an LCFS, these are the fuels targeted for elimination.
But as study after study has shown, the carbon intensity of oil derived from Alberta’s oil sands is very much in line with the intensity found in a host of other crude sources, including in the United States – which is why study after study has also shown that greenhouse gas emissions aren’t actually lowered by the LCFS.
The reality is, the oil sands’ environmental footprint continues to shrink each and every year. Carbon dioxide emissions from the production of oil sands has come down by an average of 39 percent per barrel since 1990. In some facilities, the reduction has been as high as 40-45 percent.
In 2007, the government of Alberta implemented greenhouse gas regulations requiring a 12 percent reduction in emissions per barrel. Emitters can meet the reduction target, acquire approved offsets, or pay $15 for every excess ton of emissions into a fund supporting research on improving the environment. As of 2009, over $186 million was paid into that fund, with many millions more expected to be deposited this year. Additionally, the Alberta and Canadian governments, along with industry, have invested over $10 billion in carbon capture and sequestration projects to reduce carbon emissions from energy production.
Alberta has taken significant strides to reduce the environmental footprint of oil sands production, and has the ability today to provide essential energy resources to the northeastern United States from a friendly, reliable trading partner. We’re hoping today’s energy forum brings some of those issues to light.