Carbon Footprint

 Will development of the oil sands hasten global warming?

When carbon is released into the atmosphere, earth’s temperature rises. Around the world, coal represents the greatest reservoir of carbon-based fuel available for combustion. But exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands will significantly contribute to the problem. Trucks that weigh 160 times more than a brontosaurus rumble through strip mines, getting one half of a kilometer per gallon. In situ operations burn huge quantities of natural gas, converting water to steam. All of this activity has pushed aside muskeg and a boreal forest whose piecemeal demise may be releasing even greater quantities of sequestered carbon. As technology improves the efficiency with which bitumen is removed from the ground, it is possible that the oil sands’ carbon footprint can be reduced to that of conventional oil. The problem, however, is bigger than bitumen itself. As bitumen replaces conventional oil for fuel and prolongs our dependence upon fossil fuels, our atmosphere will only grow hotter. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, has gone so far as to say that “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”

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