Pulling up to the pump to replenish our fuel tank inevitably triggers some familiar thoughts.
“How much is filling up going to cost me this time?”
“My windshield is one big insect smear. Should I bother cleaning it?”
“Ooh. This one’s got fresh coffee and donuts. Do I have time to go in?”
Of all the things that cross our mind at this moment, few of us ponder the crude oil source from which our just-purchased fuel was derived (unless, perhaps, you work for an integrated energy producer.)
But for corporate fleet managers whose vehicles consume fuel in the order of thousands of times greater than the average consumer, that fuel’s crude oil source may be top of mind.
That’s because oil sands development critics are actively pressuring North American major corporations with large vehicle fleets like Coca-Cola and Pepsi to shun fuels derived from oil sands-based crude. These critics cast oil sands crude as an outlier among U.S. crudes because oil sands production involves higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than production from other sources.
Oil sands crude versus U.S. oil supply
It’s true that oil production from the oil sands does have, on average, higher GHG emissions than conventional crude oil production. According to IHS Cera, fuels from oil sands produce between one and 19 per cent more GHG emissions over the fuel’s entire life cycle, from production through to refining and combustion.
But while oil sands fuels may have higher GHG emissions than the average, it doesn’t mean that they’re grossly different. In fact, oil sands crude is actually within the same GHG intensity range as 45 per cent of the oil supplied to U.S. refineries in 2012, IHS Cera noted.
The view that oil sands-derived crudes are especially “dirty” also isn’t supported by new data released by researchers for California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard measuring the GHG intensity of various crude oil blends. Among other things, this data (PDF) shows that there are 13 oil fields in California that generate higher levels of upstream GHG emissions than diluted bitumen from the oil sands.
For oil sands producers, having their product in the same GHG emissions range of other crude sources is no cause for complacency.
Bringing down the GHG intensity of oil sands production remains a top priority and progress is being made. According to Environment Canada, GHG emission intensity associated with each barrel of oil sands crude has been reduced by 26 per cent since 1990.
We know crude oil sources won’t dominate your thoughts at the moment of your next fill up. And that’s okay. But the next time you’re at Canada’s Gas Station and if your mind happens to drift from slushies, wiper fluid and car washes, we thought you’d like to have these facts.