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According to 15 ways Alberta doesn’t get the credit it deserves on the Environment:

The [Canadian/Albertan] oilsands contribute less than 0.15% of global GHG emissions, a number that has been called “a rounding error”. Even Andrew Weaver, a Green Party MLA has called it “almost undetectable”. The head of the IEA Fatih Birol also called oilsands GHG emissions “not peanuts, but fractions of peanuts”

Elsewhere though, among many examples, Pembina: Climate Impacts:

Average greenhouse gas emissions for oilsands extraction and upgrading are estimated to be 3.2 to 4.5 times as intensive per barrel as for conventional crude oil produced in Canada or the United States.

These are not necessarily inconsistent, but the underlying inquiry that both seem to be driving at is whether the Albertan oil sands are bad for the global environment because they emit a lot of greenhouse gasses.

So perhaps the question could be rephrased as: Does oil extraction contribute to greenhouse gasses worldwide? If so, is Alberta a significant contributor?

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    Whether it contributes at all pretty much has to be a yes. Whether it is significant is opinion-based. (Is 0.15% significant?) What sort of answer would you consider satisfactory here? – Oddthinking Sep 14 '15 at 17:26
  • Thanks @Oddthinking – It's a good question. I really don't know enough global-warming lingo to nail down what should be satisfactory, and would appreciate input. One standard, from-the-hip, might be whether developing the tar sands over the next ten years will contribute to CO<sup>2</sup> with such a sufficiency as to be considered a material cause of sea level rise. Or maybe 10% of carbon emissions? I'm just speculating. What do you think might work as a standard? – Brian M. Hunt Sep 14 '15 at 17:53
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    There may be three issues: it is petroleum, a carbon based fuel, so using it for energy inevitably results in CO2 emissions; it requires significant amounts of energy to separate and process the oilsands to extract the petroleum, so involves more CO2 per unit of petroleum produced than other more conventional oil sources; and the relatively small fraction of world energy represented by Albertan oilsands. – Henry Sep 14 '15 at 20:26
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    The trouble with setting a standard of 10% of carbon emissions, is that no-one is claiming that to be the case (and presumably no-one believes it.) So tackling that is a bit of a strawman. You quote two claims (0.15% of global GHG and 3.2-4.5 times as much per volume as competing sources). We could tackle either one of those. Note the claims are directly about emissions, not sea level rise, which makes them easier to directly tackle. Sea level rise is just one predicted outcome of Climate Change. – Oddthinking Sep 15 '15 at 0:56
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    @BrianM.Hunt It's a bit tricky to attribute the effects of global warming to any single project too. If we developed the tar sands, and nothing else, then of course it wouldn't be an issue. Maybe a better way to phrase the question is in terms of a carbon budget. We have some reasonable estimates of the amount of carbon that can be released before global temperatures will rise by more than 2 degrees for instance. As a fraction of that carbon budget, we could then compare energy yields for the tar sands, vs. other projects. – John Doucette Sep 15 '15 at 19:59

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