There is a certain irony there: The United States invaded Iraq at least in part to secure access to its oil. Now, thanks partly to economic blowback from that disastrous decision, it has found the “security” it was looking for right next door. It has become fashionable to predict that high oil prices will spark a free-market response to climate change, setting off an “explosion of innovation in alternatives,” as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently.
Alberta puts the lie to that claim. High prices have indeed led to an R&D extravaganza, but it is squarely focused on figuring out how to get the dirtiest possible oil out of the hardest-to-reach places. Shell, for instance, is working on a “novel thermal recovery process” — embedding large electric heaters in the deposits and literally cooking the earth. And that’s the Alberta tar sands for you: The industry already contributing to climate change more than any other is frantically turning up the heat.
The process of refining bitumen emits three to four times the greenhouse gases produced by extracting oil from traditional wells, making the tar sands the largest single contributor to Canada’s growth in greenhouse gas emissions.