Summer 2013

Dialogue | Why are tar sands a bad fuel choice?

Tar sands, or oil sands, are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen (a tar-like material that can be converted into usable fuel). Because a significant amount of energy is required to extract and process the bitumen, gasoline produced from tar sands generates approximately 20 percent more global warming pollution over its life cycle (i.e., from extraction to combustion) than gasoline produced from the conventional crude oil typically used in the United States. Thus, increased use of tar sands could offset a significant amount of the emissions reductions gained from fuel economy standards. In addition, making gasoline and other fuels from tar sands increases the production of petroleum coke (“petcoke”) that, when burned to generate electricity, emits as much global warming pollution as coal.

Tar sands operations can also harm the local environment. They often consume significant amounts of water, adding to the strain on freshwater resources already depleted by drought and pollution. And their waste contains toxins that can contaminate surface and groundwater, threatening public health and wildlife.

Fortunately, we can reduce the need for environmentally costly tar sands by using less oil altogether. UCS has a practical plan to cut projected U.S. oil use in half within 20 years, through increased fuel efficiency, electric cars, better biofuels, and smarter transportation strategies. These solutions can save consumers billions of dollars while avoiding the risks associated with resources like tar sands.


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