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Report: Tar Sands Derived Gasoline Threatening Environment
01/23/2014   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Over the next six years, Mainers and other motorists around the Northeast can expect to be filling up their gas tanks with gas that is increasingly derived from Canadian tar sands oil. That's according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which says the carbon intensive extraction and refining process for tar sands runs counter to many states' plans to cut carbon pollution, the major driver of climate change. Susan Sharon has more.

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Report: Tar Sands Gas Threatens Environment
Originally Aired: 1/23/2014 5:30 PM

According to the report, extracting and refining oil from Alberta's tar sands emits 81 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil production, and contributes to the destruction of carbon-trapping forest lands in an area the size of Florida. Unless states take steps to keep out high-carbon fuel, Emily Figdor of the group Environment Maine says tar sands-derived gasoline and heating oil supplies will increase by as much as 18 percent in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

"And at that 18 percent penetration rate, we would see the increased carbon emissions that would result would essentially wipe away the promised carbon reductions under the landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative," Figdor says.

Under the regional cap and trade program, known as RGGI, nine states, including Maine, have agreed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by at least 10 percent by 2018. But if entire regions of the U.S. begin to rely on tar sands-derived fuel, Figdor says it will have big implications for efforts to control climate change.

What complicates matters is that it's difficult to track where gasoline suppliers get their fuel in the first place. "We need to have a tracking system. We absolutely should be able to know where our fuel is coming from," Figdor says. "We should be able to also know the carbon intensity of that fuel. That's a very important first step to addressing this problem."

But what is clear is where the U.S. gets its oil in general. And Dan Kish of the Institute for Energy Research says, right now, that's Canada.

"Canada has been our number one supplier of oil to the United States for more than five years now - surpassed Saudi Arabia some time ago. The Saudis remain number two, and then followed closely by Mexico."

Kish says Canada is also the primary supplier to the U.S. of natural gas. And right now most of that Canadian oil and natural gas is coming from the Alberta tar sands.

"It actually supplies the majority of the fuel used in the Midwest - Chicago region, that sort of thing - going to refineries all around the Great Lakes," Kish says. "It supplies an increasing amount of oil down all the way to the Gulf Coast."

Maine gets most of its crude from the Gulf Coast, and because Gulf Coast refineries are taking an increasing volume of tar sands, Figdor says it's more urgent for communities and policy-makers to take action here.

One of those communities is South Portland which is attempting to draft a moratorium to keep tar sands out of the city. M.J. Ferrier has been involved in the effort. She says she's discouraged by the NRDC's report that shows that more tar sands oil is on the way.

"And it makes people throw up their hands and say, 'All that work for nothing?!'" she says. "I hope they don't. I hope they realize that we have to keep on going forward with this."

Figdor says one way to move forward without tar-sands derived fuel is to turn to electric vehicles, which can go farther than conventional vehicles on a gallon of gas. A request for comment from the American Petroleum Institute was not returned by airtime.


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