Greenhouse gas emissions set to rise as new sources for transport fuel are used

December 7, 2006

The use of low-quality sources of petroleum, such as tar sands, will dramatically raise global greenhouse gas emissions according to a new study.

The work is reported in the paper Risks of the oil transition, published in the new Institute of Physics open-access electronic-only journal, Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

Lead author Professor Alex Farrell of the University of California, Berkeley said: “Liquid fuels for transportation are increasingly coming from a wide range of sources other than conventional petroleum. We call this the oil transition and we conclude that the environmental risks associated with this transition are much bigger than the risk to a country’s economy or the security of their fuel supply.”

Tar sands are currently one of the biggest unconventional sources for petroleum. Bitumen, a very think mixture of organic liquids, is mined from the tar sands. Natural gas is then bubbled through the bitumen to separate the impurities, mostly sulphur. The use of natural gas for removing impurities and then in refining tar sands into oil is a highly energy intensive process itself, even before the resulting oil is refined into gasoline and then burned in vehicles.

The sulphur separated in the production combines with Hydrogen to form H2S, the characteristic 'rotten egg' compound. Solid sulphur is then separated out, yielding vast pyramids of yellow sulphur blocks which are stacked and stored on the site.

“We have calculated that production of fuels from low-quality and synthetic petroleum, such as tar sands, could have greenhouse gas emissions 30%-70% greater than the emissions from conventional petrol. Tar sands are already being used as a source for petrol, with over one million barrels refined each day in Alberta, Canada. With oil selling for $60/barrel on the international market, the $30/barrel production cost for tar sands is no longer an obstacle to production as it used to be.”

Professor Farrell continued: “The enormous abundance of fossil fuel reserves means that the real challenge for the future is not dealing with scarcity of supply but managing the transition from traditional sources such as oil fields to new unconventional sources whilst protecting the environment and balancing the changes that the transition will bring to the global economy and the security of supply for individual countries.”

Source: Institute of Physics

Explore further: Saving Louisiana's coast

Related Stories

Saving Louisiana's coast

August 27, 2015

It was Day Nine after Katrina struck in 2005 when Sarah Mack's bosses at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans called her back to work.

Scientist: Oil slick likely from natural seafloor seepage

July 30, 2015

Coast Guard officials were still trying to determine the source of a mysterious miles-long oil slick off California's Santa Barbara County shoreline, but a scientist said Thursday that it's likely the result of naturally ...

Oil sands study shows negative impact on lake systems

January 7, 2013

(—Fifty years of Athabasca oil sands development has left a legacy of contaminants in lake ecosystems and that contamination reaches further from the development areas than previously recognized, according to new ...

Recommended for you

Climate scientist hits out at IPCC projections

October 13, 2015

As a new chairman is appointed to the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change (IPCC) a University of Manchester climate expert has said headline projections from the organisation about future warming are 'wildly over optimistic.'

'Bridge' fuel may escalate atmospheric greenhouse gas

October 13, 2015

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests there has been a decline in measurable atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use in the U.S. for the past seven years, a Cornell scientist says ...

Study sees powerful winds carving away Antarctic snow

October 13, 2015

A new study has found that powerful winds are removing massive amounts of snow from parts of Antarctica, potentially boosting estimates of how much the continent might contribute to sea level. Up to now, scientists had thought ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.