Generally speaking Alberta’s oil sands produce a bit more green house gases per capita than other crudes. This information comes from the US Congressional Research Service and the Alberta Energy Resources Board. However, as the graphic illustrates oil sands GHGs are dwarfed by coal generation in North America.
Opponents of the oil sands have compared them to Mordor and suggest irreversible environmental damage and a huge GHG impact. In fact only 0.16% of the world’s GHGs are produced by the oil sands—a small fraction of the amount produced by coal energy production. The significance of the oil sands GHGs pales when compared to coal.
The GHG content of oil sands crude is 12-15% higher than the most common crudes consumed by European countries, for example. When comparing the GHGs one must consider transport methods, tanker or pipeline to get the crude to the refinery. The US State Department has itself stated that the Keystone XL pipeline will eliminate as many as 200 ocean tanker trips per year.
The hydrocarbon market trends are illustrated succinctly by the Virtual Capitalist (see source b): the US is importing less and less Canadian oil and gas while Asian demand for both commodities is trending sharply upwards.
If policy makers are genuinely concerned with GHGs then they need to focus on reducing coal energy production as a priority not the oil sands.