Alberta's oilsands produce more greenhouse gas emissions than some European countries right now and will produce more than all of the world's volcanoes in just 11 years if the pace of development continues, a new report says.
"Dirty: How the Tarsands Are Fuelling Global Climate Change" is set to be released Monday.
Greenpeace commissioned award-winning author Andrew Nikiforuk, a business and environmental reporter, to write the report.
"Nobody in Canada wants to talk about the scale issues," he said in an interview Saturday.
"The emissions are bigger than Estonia and Lithuania right now and in 2020 will be larger than countries like Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Denmark."
The report documents the "real" cost of the oilsands, which Nikiforuk said are the world's largest energy project.
"The major energy projects in the Middle East,... they don't come anywhere near. None of them approach the scale and capital intensity of the oilsands."
The report says almost $200 billion has been or will be invested in the projects in northern Alberta, including not only the oilsands but pipelines, refinery expansions and other associated infrastructure.
It adds that the liabilities are a nearly threefold increase in greenhouse gas emissions, enormous amounts of natural gas used and wasted to produce synthetic oil from bitumen — which consists of tarry pitch, or asphalt — and the "economic nightmare" of carbon capture and storage, a technology that has yet to be developed.
On Friday, the premiers of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan inked a deal pledging to work together on carbon capture and storage technology. In June, the Alberta government announced it was giving $2 billion to seven companies to fund three pilot projects.
But Nikiforuk points out that there is no commercial carbon capture and storage facility operating anywhere in the world.
The technology is being designed mainly for the coal-fired electricity plants operating in Alberta to fuel the energy-hungry oilsands and associated projects.
This is how it's envisioned to work: Carbon dioxide is captured from smokestacks and the gas is compressed and transported to be stored underground. The waste must be monitored for an undetermined amount of time, possibly for thousands of years, at an uncalculated cost to ensure that no leaks occur, the report says.
"Most governments are not good at monitoring things for five years, let alone a thousand years," Nikiforuk said.
He also said the money to pay for carbon capture and storage will come out of Canadian taxpayers' wallets.
"The estimate from the Carbon Capture Council in Alberta is that we're going to need $2 billion to $3 billion a year for the next 20 years. That's extraordinary, that's taxpayers' money.... Any fiscal conservative in the country should look at this and just be absolutely alarmed."
Nikiforuk compared it with the fledgling nuclear power industry nearly 50 years ago.
"It was going to be too cheap to meter, then it became too expensive to build, and I think carbon capture and storage will probably leave the same kind of legacy."