In contrast to regions such as the upper Midwest, the U.S. Northeast’s fuel supply has been nearly free of tar sands crude. That may change in coming years if pipeline expansions sought by Canada’s industry proceed, an environmental group is warning.
An increase in the consumption of gasoline made from tar sands, with its bigger carbon footprint, “would move the region backwards in its efforts to fight climate change,” said a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The advocacy group is a leading critic of Canadian plans to expand production and shipment through new pipelines, including the Texas-bound Keystone XL system.
Keystone XL’s southern leg has just started delivering supplies to the Gulf Coast. Its northern leg from Alberta, Canada, to Oklahoma is awaiting a permit decision from the Obama administration in the next few months. And pipelines are being considered to carry tar sands eastward to Atlantic refineries as well.
That means that people who live in New England and the mid-Atlantic regions could, for the first time, be fueling their cars or heating their homes with fuels refined from the tar sands — a petroleum source that uses up so much energy during production that it emits about 17 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per gallon of gas consumed than conventional fuel.
“By 2020, if these carbon intensive projects move forward, as much as 18 percent of the region’s petroleum-based transportation and heating fuel supply could be derived from the high-carbon feedstock,” said the report, based on research done for NRDC by the consulting firm Hart Energy LLC.
That would increase the region’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 10 million tons, an amount that would offset most of the pollution reductions expected to be achieved by the region’s comprehensive carbon trading scheme, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which controls carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.