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Refuting Claims That Canadian Oil Sands Crude Are Being Fairly Treated

Contributed by Robert Lyman © 2019

Robert Lyman is a former public servant of 27 years and was a diplomat for 10 years prior to that. His full biography is here. 

In a comment published in the Financial Post on July 17, 2019, Greenpeace Canada strategic Keith Stewart argued that Canada must “stop oil expansion”.  He rejected the view that oil sands are being unfairly singled out and claimed that crudes from the oil sands were “among some of the highest carbon oil in the planet”. He thus defended the environmental group campaigns to discourage investment, block pipeline infrastructure, and turn public opinion against the oil sands. 


Statements like those made by Mr. Stewart depend for their credibility on a public that is generally uninformed about energy matters, and specifically uninformed about the science that underlies debates about climate change. They are aided by the extraordinary refusal of the Canadian petroleum industry publicly to defend itself against false claims. This blog post is thus intended to do a double service. It will provide the facts about the comparative carbon intensity of several crude oils and it will provide a free (i.e. no compensation received or expected) service to the sleepwalking Canadian oil firms.


Because concerns about the alleged adverse effects of greenhouse gas emissions has reached the status of a state religion in California, the state government, in the form of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), annually produces a report in which it calculates the “carbon intensity value” of the crude oils refined in the state. While these are only a small subset of the wide range of crude oils produced and refined in the world, the data provided offers a good source for assessing comparative carbon intensities of the crude oils refined in North America. The latest report can be found here:


For 2017, the most recent year reported, the average carbon intensity value of crude oil refined in California was 11.93 in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule (gCO2e/MJ).


As 11.93 was the average, half the crude oils refined had carbon intensities above that level. Some crude oil from Canada, such as Mixed Sweet (8.27) and Canadian Conventional Heavy (9.27) were well below the average, but these were some crude oils produced by mining and in situ production that had higher carbon intensities, including these:


Crude Oil

Carbon Intensity

Albion Heavy Synthetic19.90
Cold Lake18.40
Shell Synthetic21.39
Suncor Synthetic23.71
Surmont Heavy Blend18.26

Source: CARB


What about the carbon intensity of other crude oils that fall above the average in terms of carbon intensity? As might be expected, they include several sources and fall into a wide range. These examples, however, illustrate an interesting point.


Crude OilSourceCarbon Intensity
Arroyo GrandeCalifornia29.33
Poso CreekCalifornia28.15
San Ardo California27.26
Round MountainCalifornia25.99
Kern FrontCalifornia25.10
Montalvo WestCalifornia25.05
Wyoming SweetWyoming24.11
Antelope Hills NorthCalifornia19.14


Source: CARB


If the CARB analysis had included crude oil supplies from all countries, there is no doubt that oil produced in Venezuela, Algeria and Nigeria would rank among those with very high carbon dioxide intensity, largely due to production practices that involve a large amount of gas flaring, As it is, the figures demonstrate that there are plenty of crude oil sources in North America with emissions intensities as high or higher than Canadian oil sands production. 


Given this, why do you suppose that Greenpeace and other environmental organizations consistently only target Canadian oil in their opposition campaigns? How are we to react to his claims that they are being “fair”?



1 Comment

  1. 45clive

    Ever since “Peak Oil” has been disproven the game has become about demonizing oil. While much of this demonization is due to economic interests and economic warfare, Societal control is very much the end-game. Oil, unlike windmills, solar farms and hydro electric, provides untrackable mobility due to its portability and lack of dependence on the power grid. 5G, the internet of things and mass surveillance depend, for their perfection, on developing a power grid that is beyond the scope of individuals to free themselves from. I envision Agenda 21 like laws making it illegal to live or travel “off the grid”. Oil still provides the ultimate in liberty for individuals. The more we are tied to the grid, the more collectivist our society.

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