Why Canadian Tar Sands are the Most Environmentally Destructive Project on Earth

Our report reveals the following startling facts about the tar sands and petcoke.
  • Petcoke in the tar sands is turning American refineries into coal factories.
    • There is 24 percent more CO2 embedded in a barrel of tar sands bitumen than in a barrel of light oil.


    • 15 to 30 percent of a barrel of tar sands bitumen can end up as petcoke depending on the upgrading and refining process used.

    • Of 134 operating U.S. refineries in 2012, 59 are equipped to produce petcoke.

    • U.S. refineries produced more than 61.5 million tons of petcoke in 2011—enough to fuel 50 average U.S. coal plants each year.

    • In 2011, more than 60 percent of U.S petcoke production was exported.

  • Keystone XL will fuel five coal plants and thus emit 13 percent more CO2 than the U.S. State Department has previously considered.


  • Nine of the refineries close to the southern terminus of Keystone XL have nearly 30 percent of U.S. petcoke production capacity, over 50,000 tons a day.


  • The petcoke produced from the Keystone XL pipeline would fuel 5 coal plants and produce 16.6 million metric tons of CO2 each year.


  • These petcoke emissions have been excluded from State Department emissions estimates for the Keystone XL pipeline. Including these emissions raises the total annual emissions of the pipeline by 13 percent above the State Department’s calculations.


  • Cheap petcoke helps the coal industry.
    • As a refinery byproduct, petcoke is “priced to move,” selling at roughly a 25 percent discount to conventional coal.

    • Rising petcoke production associated with tar sands and heavy oil production is helping to make coal fired power generation dirtier and cheaper—globally.

    • From January 2011 to September 2012, the U.S. exported more than 8.6 million tons of petcoke to China, most of which was likely burnt in coal-fired power plants.

  • PetKoch”: The largest global petcoke trader in the world is Florida based Oxbow Corporation, owned by William Koch—the brother of Charles and David Koch.


  • Oxbow Carbon has donated $4.25 million to GOP Super PAC s, making it the one of the largest corporate donors to super PACs.


  • Oxbow also spent over $1.3 million on lobbyists in 2012.
As mentioned above, the impacts of petcoke on the local and global environment have not been considered by regulatory bodies in assessing the impacts of the tar sands.
Petcoke’s full impacts must be considered by the European Union in its debate on the Fuel Quality Directive, by the U.S. State Department in its consideration of the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline, and by Canadian, American and European governments in tar sands policies across the board.

Increasing petcoke use is a clear result of the increasing production of tar sands bitumen. Petcoke is a seldom discussed yet highly important aspect of the full impacts of tar sands production. Factored into the equation, petcoke puts another strong nail in the coffin of any rational argument for the further exploitation of the tar sands.

Why Canadian Tar Sands are the Most Environmentally Destructive Project on Earth

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