Lindsey Graham Drinks the Tar Sands Kool-Aid

Guest Blog | October 11, 2010 | Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling

This blog is a repost from Climate Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.

“It is less carbon intensive than oil we find in California,” extraction “really blends in with the natural habitat.”

September 19, 2010

albertatarsands1Who are you going to believe:  Lindsey Graham or your own lyin’ eyes?

In an amazing interview with Canada’s The Globe and Mail, “U.S. senator sold on the oil sands,” the once-serious, but now utterly incoherent Senator from South Carolina visits what some have rightly called the “biggest global warming crime ever seen,” and pronounces it A-OK:

Q:  Why are you here?

LG:  “Just do the math. There is more oil received from the oil sands region than Saudi Arabia and Iran combined. So from an energy source it is hugely important.”

“You talk about dirty oil. Oil sands oil is dirty. They are reducing their carbon footprint. They are making it cleaner. It is less carbon intensive than oil we find in California, within six per cent of oil received from Iran. So when you use the word, I think you have to look at the idea of the regimes. Dirty oil to me is oil coming from Iraq and Venezuela where you have really despotic people running the country. The money that is received by those regimes doesn’t go to the common good. It goes to some of the worst organizations in the world.”

“I am going to do everything I can to make sure that oil sands production is not impeded because of U.S. policy.”

Not — see Podesta: Canada’s “green tar sands” like our “error-free deepwater drilling” and “clean coal”:  “Oil extraction from tar sands is polluting, destructive, expensive, and energy-intensive. These things are facts.”

I guess Graham is just repeating the incredibly misleading claim he was probably told that, once refined, the tar sands oil isn’t dirtier than regular oil.  But as Wikipedia explains:

Making liquid fuels from oil sands requires energy for steam injection and refining. This process generates two to four times the amount of greenhouse gases per barrel of final product as the production of conventional oil.  If combustion of the final products is included, the so-called “Well to Wheels” approach, oil sands extraction, upgrade and use emits 10 to 45% more greenhouse gases than conventional crude.

The ultimate reason the tar sands cannot be made green from a climate perspective is that Canada is diverting a considerable amount of its natural gas resources to extract and process the tar sands. That natural gas could be used to shut down Canadian and US coal plants, reducing their emissions by some two thirds. Even if the tar sands had CCS, you’d still be wasting vast amounts of natural gas and creating an immense “opportunity carbon cost.”  Natural gas is simply too precious a carbon-reducing fuel to waste on making another carbon-intensive fuel like the output of the tar sands.

Here’s more from the interview:

Q:  Yes, but Nancy Pelosi didn’t go to the oil sands.

LG:  “Oh gosh, yes. I had some ominous views of this place. But it really blends in with the natural habitat. Everybody should come.

We are always talking about Americans’ dependency on foreign oil. Every politician says we need to break our dependency on foreign oil and every American cheers. Well you know what, we are going to be depending on fossil fuels for a long time to come….

That’s why the trip is so important. And I would challenge anybody who has got concerns to come up here. Don’t believe me. See it for yourself.”


Here's a picture featured in a National Geographic article of Syncrude's Aurora Oil Sands Mine, where the Boreal Forest has been stripped away to access the tarry deposits below
Here's a picture featured in a National Geographic article of Syncrude's Aurora Oil Sands Mine, where the Boreal Forest has been stripped away to access the tarry deposits below

As The Independent explained in 2007:

The booming oil sands industry will produce 100 million tonnes of CO2 (equivalent to a fifth of the UK’s entire annual emissions) a year by 2012, ensuring that Canada will miss its emission targets under the Kyoto treaty….

The oil rush is also scarring a wilderness landscape: millions of tonnes of plant life and top soil is scooped away in vast open-pit mines and millions of litres of water are diverted from rivers — up to five barrels of water are needed to produce a single barrel of crude and the process requires huge amounts of natural gas.

Hard to believe Graham once strongly endorsed climate action, saying:

“The idea of not pricing carbon, in my view, means you’re not serious about energy independence. The odd thing is you’ll never have energy independence until you clean up the air, and you’ll never clean up the air until you price carbon.”

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