21 January 2009

Heart of the Poisoned West

Tar sands smog seen worsening

Pollution will continue to plague Alberta's oil sands despite plans to pipe harmful greenhouse gases deep underground, according to documents obtained by the Toronto Star. Part of the task of cleaning up the oil sands involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions and storing them in geological reservoirs in western Canada. But chemicals linked to acid rain, respiratory problems and ozone depletion could escape into the atmosphere at an even faster rate, thanks to an estimated tripling of production from one million barrels a day in 2007 to 3.4 million barrels a day in 2017. That could occur despite proposed national caps on air contaminants. By capturing about 200 megatonnes a year of carbon dioxide, sequestration (as carbon dioxide storage is known) is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by almost 80% in 2017, says an Environment Canada study obtained under the Access to Information Act. But, the study notes, "there are emissions of CO2 and air contaminants resulting from the generation of the energy required by (carbon capture and storage) facilities. The CO2 emissions offset the volumes captured by the facilities, while the air contaminant emissions add to the load on the environment." The June 2008 study predicts emissions of sulphur dioxide, the main ingredient in acid rain, will rise by up to 34% by 2017. Nitrous oxides - responsible for ozone layer depletion - will rise by up to 24%. Ozone depletion is linked to higher rates of skin cancer, among other health problems. Tiny particulate matter is set to jump by more than 60% in the oil sands and could lead to hazy skies and aggravate existing lung and heart problems. "It is dirty oil for any number of reasons, and it's not just carbon dioxide, " said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, which has researched the links between oil sands production and health problems. "It's very clear that we need to turn our attention to those other types of pollutants or else it's going to be a disaster in the future."
(Toronto Star 090121)

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