Turns out that carbon-capture is not the panacea for Canada’s oilsands that certain politicians have been saying, according to a briefing note (marked “secret”) obtained by the CBC:
Little of the oilsands’ carbon dioxide can be captured because most emissions aren’t concentrated enough, the notes say. For efficient capture, there must be a high concentration of CO2 coming out of a smoke stack.
“Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” the notes say. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”
The Canadian and Alberta governments are spending about $2.5 billion on developing carbon capture and storage, and the oilsands generally come up as the first reason for spending the money.
This doesn’t mean that carbon-capture and storage is a useless technological innovation, just that it’s of negligible use in the oilsands, which are extremely energy-intensive. CCS can be of some help in reducing emissions from upgraders — where sandy tar mined from the ground gets turned into flowing oil — but that’s only part of the production process. The upgraders on the drawing board now, which are likely to get built eventually even if they’re on hold till the economy recovers, are planned to meet pretty high standards, which is a mixed blessing. It’s good that they’re efficient and relatively low-pollution, but they’re not going to be low-hanging fruit in the hunt for emissions reductions.
The oilsands are an environmental nightmare. No getting around it.