Two Tales of Oil, One Story


The Canadian Tar Sands, epitomized in the work of the great folks over at’s work against the Keystone XL Pipeline, are a uniquely dirty source of oil energy.

They release more carbon than regular sources of oil, and not to mention do all sorts of questionable things to the areas water supplies and larger ecosystems.

Recently a University of Victoria researcher came out with a study, that says, in essence that burning tar sands oil is still better than burning coal.

To put this in context, it’s a bit like heroine is less bad than meth.  You still don’t really want your kid doing either, you know?

What’s interesting, aside from the research itself, is how publications are choosing to report on this. This Globe and Mail article, essentially says we should ignore the naysayers and throw our support behind tar sands oil. It also contains one obvious error:

Dr. Weaver’s analysis only accounts for emissions from burning the fuel. It doesn’t count greenhouse gases released by producing the resource because that would double-count those emissions.

Including the emissions released produced by the resource would not lead to double counting, and in fact tar sands oils are considered particularly dirty because of the amount of energy needed to wrest them from the earth. Whether this statement was a mistake on the part of the article’s author or in the research itself I’m not sure but either way it’s problematic.

This Vancouver Sun article is far more nuanced pointing out that coal and oil are both bad, and that tar sands oil can still be a significant contributor to climate change if we are not careful. In other words, tar sands oil is still problematic.

If you read only the Globe and Mail article, you might think the tar sands protestors were a bunch of ill informed complainers.