10 Reasons for an Oil Sands Moratorium

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Scientists Call for A Moratorium on Oil Sands Development in North America

On Wednesday, June 10th 2015, more than 100 prominent scientists from across North America, including climate scientists, economists, geophysicists, and biologists, released a consensus statement entitled “Ten Reasons for a Moratorium” that shows why Canada and the United States should postpone new oil sands development. 

The rapid expansion of oil sands production in Alberta, Canada’s energy-rich province has focused global attention on greenhouse gas emissions in North America and stoked debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in the US. Unknown to many, however, the US has its own deposits of oil sands (better known in the US as tar sands) and other unconventional fuels that rival those north of the border. The consequences of increased emissions for greenhouse gasses from development of the oil sands on both sides of the border led the scientists to call for a North American moratorium.

“Leading independent researchers show that significant expansion of the oil sands and similar unconventional oil sources is inconsistent with efforts to avoid potentially dangerous climate change,” says Simon Fraser University energy economist Mark Jaccard, one of the statement’s authors. The statement shows there is little choice but to curtail further development if Canada and the US are to meet carbon emissions targets and show their commitment to avoiding dangerous levels of warming. 

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Development of these unconventional fuels in the US would result in carbon emission 25-75% greater than conventional oil, and consume large amounts of Colorado River Basin water, said LCI's Director, Tom Sisk, a coauthor of the scientists’ consensus statement. “Development of unconventional fuels in the arid West could further threaten already limited water resources, impact vulnerable ecosystems and make regional efforts to adapt to climate warming much more difficult” he said.

The US could address these challenges by reforming the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which mandates development of the United States’ unconventional fuel deposits. Complying with this mandate, federal agencies have allocated over 810,000 acres of federal public land for oil shale and tar sands development, and have supported efforts to develop technologies for producing oil shale and tar sands on a commercial scale. While well intended, the policy makes it harder for the US to meet its carbon emission targets. The seriousness of ongoing climate warming, globally, and the perpetuation of policies that increase greenhouse gas emissions, led this group of independent researchers to call for a moratorium on new oil sands development, Sisk said. 

“It’s rare that scientists speak collectively about controversial topics. Many of us had strong opinions about the oil sands based on our research, and once we began comparing notes, we recognized the need to speak publicly, now, with a unified voice.”