The Norwegian state-owned oil company Statoil just released a Report Card for their in situ tar sands operations, and it was an eye-opener.

The factoid that will probably get most of the attention is that they are producing a whopping 670 kilograms of greenhouse gases per barrel of oil from their tar sands project, which compares somewhat unfavourably to the 27 - 58 kg per barrel from conventional oil or the 8 to 19 kilograms per barrel from Statoil's operations in the North Sea.  Granted, emissions are expected to be higher when projects are starting up, but this level of emissions are still more than 4 times what Statoil claimed they would be when they proposed the project. And the project is also using over 4 barrels of water per barrel of oil (after you give them credit for recycling), which makes it particularly dirty and thirsty.

What struck me, however, was how they justified this investment. They’ve been under a lot of pressure from Greenpeace and others to pull out of the tar sands, so they felt the need to explain why they would put their money into unconventional oil rather than into going beyond oil to a world powered by renewable energy.

Their rationale was based on the claim that the world needs the oil, according to the International Energy Agency's (IEA) 2010 World Energy Outlook (WEO), so they don’t really have a choice.

Maybe they were hoping no one would pay the hefty fee to get a copy of the full report, but if you do, you’ll see that the specific scenario that they are using to justify their investment (the New Policies Scenario) was just one of three scenarios put forward by the IEA. You’d also find that this scenario is inconsistent with the climate targets established by the Government of Norway (Statoil’s majority owner) and the world more broadly as part of the Copenhagen Accord because it would commit the globe to dangerous levels of global warming.

The three scenario’s in the IEA’s 2010 World Energy Outlook were:

  1. Current Policies: A business-as-usual scenario where very little is being done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures rise by up to 6 degrees Celsius, leading to “massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet.”
  2. New Policies: Governments implement measures consistent with their greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Copenhagen Accord. According to the IEA: “The New Policies Scenario puts the world onto a trajectory consistent with stabilising the concentration of greenhouse gases at just over 650 ppm CO2-eq, resulting in a likely temperature rise of over 3.5°C in the long term.” (WEO 2010, p. 97). This is, of course, inconsistent with the Accord's stated goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
  3. The 450 Scenario: Sufficient action is taken to stabilize CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere at 450 ppm, which has a roughly 50 per cent chance of keeping global warming below 2 degrees.

Not satisfied with at best a 50 per cent chance of staying below 2 degrees of warming, Greenpeace has worked with the renewable energy industry to map out our own plan for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. We call it the Energy [R]evolution and we were tickled pink when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chose it as one of their four principal scenarios in the recent Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources.  

The demand for oil in these scenarios is summarized in the table below. And keep in mind that there are currently 4.1 million barrels per day worth of tar sands projects either operating, under construction or which have final approval, while an additional 4 million barrels per day are at various stages of the approvals process.



IEA Scenarios for 2035 (from World Energy Outlook 2010)

Greenpeace / EREC Scenarios for 2035

(from 2010 Energy [R]evolution report)

Current Policies

New Policies

450 Scenario

Energy [R]evolution (basic scenario)

Energy [R]evolution (advanced scenario)

Global Oil Demand (millions of barrels/day)







Canadian oil sands production (millions of barrels/day)





No need for new oil sands projects and the phase out of existing projects is completed or underway.

In the Energy [R]evolution scenarios, we achieve larger reductions in oil consumption by tapping into the large potential for improving the efficiency of the transport sector by shifting freight from road to rail, expanding public transit, by using much lighter, smaller and more efficient passenger vehicles, and by accelerating the transition to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy.

And that is where we hope Statoil will put their money, rather than into expanding unconventional oil extraction that fuels out-of-control climate change.