NRDC Calls on Major Airlines to Steer Clear of Highly Polluting New Fuel Types

Gassing Up on Tar Sands, Coal, Shale Sharply Increases Aviation Emissions

WASHINGTON (January 10, 2008) -- The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) today urged 15 major U.S. and Canadian airlines and The Boeing Company to publicly oppose the use of jet fuel made from highly polluting sources including liquefied coal, oil shale, and so-called “tar sands,” and called on the airlines to join a campaign seeking increased investment in cleaner fuels throughout the airline industry.
“The aviation industry is under tremendous pressure to cut emissions and reduce their fuel bills. Using tar sands, coal, and shale to make fuels won’t help. In fact, it would be a giant step backward,” said Liz Barratt-Brown, NRDC senior attorney. “There are better, safer, cleaner solutions that cost less and won’t pollute the friendly skies. We want to work with them to make it happen.”
Production of oil from these controversial sources generates between two and five times the heat-trapping global warming pollution compared with producing conventional oil. Rapid expansion in the extraction and refining of fuels from Canada’s tar sands is generating strong opposition in a growing number of local communities in the United States and Canada. NRDC is specifically targeting United Airlines and American Airlines, which are supporting the increase in availability of fuels from the Canadian tar sands. These and other airlines are already fueling up on tar sands jet fuel in the Midwest and Rockies regions of the United States.
Thousands of acres of pristine Boreal forest in Canada have been destroyed by the tar sands extraction, and large parts of the U.S. West are targeted for production of oil from shale and coal. NRDC is asking airlines instead to invest in the development of cleaner, renewable fuel sources, such as biofuels and algae, and to make improvements in efficiency. Many measures will save fuel and money, such as updating traffic-control and routing, making aircraft modifications, moving to electric aircraft towing, and improving aircraft-descent practices.
“The airlines can help cut global warming pollution and save critical wilderness areas, like Canada’s Boreal forest” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, director of NRDC’s Canada program. “U.S consumers are becoming more aware about the harm that airline travel does to our North American waters and lands.”
Other airlines asked to take the “Cool Fuels” pledge are Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, FedEx Express, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, U.S. Airways, UPS and WestJet Airlines. NRDC has also invited Virgin Atlantic Airways’ Chairman Sir Richard Branson, a leading advocate for combating global warming and developing alternative fuels.

For copies of the letters, please see For more background, see