Oil sands pollution comparable to ‘large power plant’, NASA data shows
It may not be “game over” for the environment.
Dr. James E. Hansen, climate scientist at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who famously said that the development of the Keystone XL pipeline — which proposes to transport Alberta oil sands to the U.S. — will be “game over” for the environment, may want to review his own institute’s latest data.
New NASA data on its website shows that the emission of pollutants from oil sands mining in Alberta province are “comparable to the emissions from a large power plant or a moderately sized city.”
Chris McLinden, a scientist at Environment Canada who conducted the research, told the Financial Post that the study only looked at two pollutants but he was pleasantly surprised by the technology which could be used in more accurate monitoring of the oil sands, as part of greater scrutiny pledged by Alberta and the federal government recently.
“Let me put it this way, at the beginning of this six-year period, the pollution [over the oil sands area] was in the range of a medium to large coal-burning power plant, and at the end of the six-year period it was within the range of a large coal-burning power plant,” said Mr. McLinden.
While Mr. McLinden would not comment on Mr. Hansen’s claim, it does suggest that while the industry needs to keep an eye on rising oil sands pollution, it’s far from the grim picture painted by environmentalists.
“The top two maps above depict the concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air above the main oil sands mining operation along the Athabasca River, as observed from 2005 to 2007 (left) and 2008 to 2010 (right),” says a note on the NASA website. “The lower map shows those emissions in the broader context of the western provinces of Canada and the northern United States from 2005 to 2010. All data were acquired by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite.”
The research did find elevated levels of pollutants, though. Data showed that the emissions had increased about 10% per year between 2005 and 2010, roughly the same rate as the growth of the oil sands industry.
“For both gases, the levels are comparable to what satellites see over a large power plant—or for nitrogen dioxide, comparable to what they see over some medium-sized cities,” said Mr. McLinden, whose findings were published in Geophysical Research Letters in February 2012. “It stands out above what’s around it, out in the wilderness, but one thing we wanted to try to do was put it in context.”
Financial Post is trying to get in touch with Mr. Hansen.
Yadullah Hussain, National Post