Lifecycle GHG emissions of various sources of crude – Alberta

A new study commissioned by the Alberta (Canada) government demonstrates that lifecycle GHG emissions of different sources of crude oil are different, and that China (and all countries) need to take note of this in their transport sector emission calculations.

The Alberta government is trying desperately to make sure that oil sands oil doesn’t get blocked from the US market when new fuel policies come into effect.  As it stands, oil from Alberta’s oil sands will likely be blocked from California under the world-leading Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

In its efforts, the Government of Alberta commissioned two studies (TIAXExecutive Summary and Full Study -  and Jacobs Executive Summary and Full Study) to analyse the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with various types of crude oil – including crude processed from Canadian oil sands.  They found that some oil sands oil has lifecycle emissions comparable to some conventional crude oil (although most oil sands results turned out to be considerably higher than most conventional crude oils).  The attached image, from the Jacobs consultancy report, summarizes the findings.  Note that 70 gCO2e/MJ gasoline, which make up the bulk of the emissions, are embodied in the actual fuel.  The variation seen in this image is attributed to different production life cycles.  “Thermal” and “mining” refer to different development styles for oil sands in Canada.

Now, these reports have come under considerable criticism from organizations who don’t want to see oil sands / tar sands oil flowing into the US anymore, such as the Natural Resource Defence Council’s blog on the issue.  Honestly, this isn’t the interesting discussion for me.

The interesting thing for me is that different conventional crude oils have different lifecycle GHG emissions, possibly differing up to 10%, such as in the case between Arab Medium and Bonny Light, as illustrated above.

This means that any transport sector GHG emission analyses that assume one value for crude oil WTW emissions might be off by several percentage points, depending on the difference between the assumed weighted average of crude oil LCA GHG emissions, and the actual weighted average.

I like advanced biofuels as a means of reducing lifecycle GHG emissions in the transport sector, but if significant emission reductions can be achieved by simply shifting sources of crude oil from one supplier to another, this is also an important consideration to make, given that advanced biofuel technology is not quite commercialized yet.

It would be incumbent on China energy analysts to understand the relative sources of crude oil to China, and to undertake LCAs on each of those sources so as to minimize GHG emissions from the transport sector during this time of transition to alternative sources of energy.  Similarly, analyses on different sources of coal should be undertaken in order to accomplish the same lower carbon shifting of conventional energy sources.

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