Ever since last December when the Energy Independence and Security Act included a little provision that impacted high carbon fuels such as tar sands oil from Canada, the Alberta government has been busy in the halls of Washington, D.C. trying to get tar sands oil out. Section 526 ensures that federal agencies do not exacerbate global warming by entering into contracts to purchase synthetic, alternative, or nonconventional fuels with higher global warming-related emissions than conventional fuels. Although this clearly includes Canadian tar sands oil - as well as liquid coal and oil shale - Alberta's envoy to the U.S., Gary Mar, was recently quoted as saying that limits on U.S. government contracts for high carbon fuels do not include Canadian tar sands.
Mar is mistaken.
U.S. legislators have made it clear that section 526 of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) does include tar sands oil.
In May, Rep. Henry Waxman wrote to clarify this, saying, "section 526 applies to fuels derived from unconventional petroleum sources such as tar sands, which produce significantly higher greenhouse gas emissions than are produced by comparable fuel from conventional petroleum sources."
Alberta has repeatedly tried to repeal or weaken this provision, clearly concerned that it applies to tar sands oil. The attempts have failed, most recently with a decision related to the Defense Authorization Act last week. Canada -- as a country deeply concerned about global warming -- should be happy that the United States is finally taking first steps towards controlling greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of fighting for inclusion of tar sands, Albertans would be better served if the oil companies got to work on controlling the tar sands' global warming pollution.
To understand more about the environmental impacts of tar sands oil extraction - including high greenhouse gas emissions, go to NRDC's tar sands page.