Sarnia oil refinery, Sarnia, Ont.
In part one of our look at energy production and climate change, Energy IQ breaks down the GHG emissions associated with non-renewables.
The term “climate change” is used to describe changes in global temperature and long-term weather patterns caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, or GHGs, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, and are released into the atmosphere through both natural processes and human activities...
The term “climate change” is used to describe changes in global temperature and long-term weather patterns caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, or GHGs, include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases, and are released into the atmosphere through both natural processes and human activities.
Carbon dioxide is the primary GHG emitted by human activities. Canada is one of the highest GHG emitters in the world. Of the 704 million tonnes of GHGs emitted in Canada in 2016, the oil and gas sector and transportation sectors accounted for almost 50% of total emissions.
Canada is the fourth largest producer and exporter of oil in the world. Our country produces more crude oil than it can consume, almost 80 per cent of our oil is exported and 99 per cent of exports go to the United States. Mining Alberta’s oilsands is one of the most energy-intensive production processes, and emits more overall GHGs than any other type of energy extraction.
Deep oilsands deposits are usually mined by injecting large quantities of steam (generated by heating water with natural gas) underground, to loosen heavy oil from the sand and bring it to the surface. The oilsands account for almost 10 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions and 0.1 per cent of global emissions.
Natural gas emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than a typical coal plant. The combustion of natural gas can be controlled to minimize emissions and it is cleaner than other fossil fuels. Nevertheless, when natural gas is burned, it releases nitrous oxide and sulphur. Likewise, in its natural form, methane, it has a global warming potential (GWP) of 28-36 over 100 years, meaning that one tonne of methane has the equivalent warming effect of 28-36 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Besides emitting GHGs, transporting and producing natural gas is taxing on the environment. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in order to extract natural gas, is very water intensive, using millions of gallons of water per well.
The combustion of coal emits sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, particulate matter, mercury and other heavy metals into the atmosphere. In fact, coal-fired generators are responsible for 75 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s electricity sector. Mining coal also releases methane gas. Of Canada’s energy sources, coal-generated power produces the most GHG emissions and is the "dirtiest" energy source.
Nuclear energy itself does not emit GHGs. The emissions from the nuclear industry originate from the construction of nuclear plants, mining and processing uranium and decommissioning plants at the end of their lifecycle. The International Energy Agency has put nuclear lifecycle emissions at two to 59 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour, which is comparable to that of renewable energy.
This article is an overview of some of the ways energy production creates GHGs and contributes to climate change.
To learn more about climate change and its causes and effects, visit: canadiangeographic.ca/atlas/themes.aspx?id=climate&lang=En canadiangeographic.ca/watersheds/map/?path=english/themes/climate-change canadiangeographic.ca/wildlife-nature/?path=english/themes/climate-change canadiangeographic.ca/themes/environmental_footprint/climate-change-adaptation.asp pembina.org/blog/758 pollutionprobe.org/old_files/whatwedo/climatechange.htm
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Coal is a hardened sedimentary rock made of ancient plant material. As a fossil fuel, it is burned to produce heat and converted to electricity. It is one of the largest electricity source on Earth, but also produces some of highest GHG emissions.
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