The Natural Resources Defense Council, one of America’s leading “environmental” groups, issued a much-retailed press release yesterday that claims operations in Canada’s oil sands will emit 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the next 50 years. Do the arithmetic, and this estimate, if accurate, works out to 24 million tons per year.
Sounds like a lot, but everything is relative. Especially considering the following.
The NRDC opposes nuclear power in the U.S., and supports replacing nuclear, which emits zero grams of CO2 for each kilowatt-hour generated, with natural gas-fired generation, which emits just over half a kilogram (550 grams, to be precise). Further, the group supports replacing America’s coal-fired generators, which emit nearly a kilogram of CO2 per kWh, with yet more natural gas.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), all electric power generators in the U.S. generated 4 trillion kWh in 2011. Of those 4 trillion kWh, 42 percent (1.68 trillion kWh) came from coal-fired generators. One quarter, or 1 trillion kWh, came from gas-fired plants, and one-fifth—or 800 billion kWh—came from nuclear plants. More than half of the remaining 13 percent came from hydroelectric facilities.
Let’s look at the 1 trillion kWh that came from gas-fired plants in 2011. The NRDC supports gas-fired generation, remember. Well, those trillion kWh came with 550 million metric tons of CO2. (Multiply 1 trillion by 550 grams, then divide the product by 1 million, the number of grams in a metric ton, to convert to metric tons.)
Remember also that the 550 million metric tons of CO2 that gas-fired plants dumped into America’s air in 2011 represent a one year total. This means that in the two years 2011 and 2012, gas-fired plants in America dumped 1.1 billion tons of CO2 into the air. So two years, 1.1 billion tons of CO2. And the NRDC is complaining about Canada’s oil sands dumping 1.2 billion tons over fifty years.
Over fifty years, American gas-fired generating plants—if they maintain their 25 percent contribution to America’s total kWhs generated and if American generators continue to output 4 trillion kWh annually—will have dumped 27.5 billion tons of CO2. That is nearly 23 times as much as NRDC’s estimate of Caanda’s oil sands over the same period.
It gets worse.
As I mentioned above, NRDC, typically for mainstream environmental groups, opposes nuclear power and wishes America’s nuclear plants were replaced with gas-fired ones.
Well, nuclear plants in America generated 800 billion kWh in 2011. If gas plants provided that output, we would witness the dumping of a further 440 million tons of CO2 per year. Over 50 years, add another 22 billion tons of CO2 to the 27.5 billion tons from the already existing gas plants. The total comes to 49.5 billion tons of CO2 over fifty years.
The NRDC objects to 1.2 billion tons of CO2 over fifty years from Canada’s oil sands, but supports the dumping of 49.5 billion tons of CO2 from its favourite fossil fuel.
This is why, at the beginning of this article, I described the NRDC as one of America’s leading “environmental” groups. I feel the quotes are justified. The mainstream environmental movement is the environment’s falsest friend. Which is another way of saying, worst enemy.