– Dirty Tar Sands Fuel Headed for New York

January 23, 2014
For Immediate Release: January 23, 2014
NRDC: Elizabeth Heyd, 202-289-2424, [email protected]; or Jay Branegan, 202-513-6263, [email protected]
Environmental Advocates: Travis Proulx: [email protected], 518-462-5526 x238

Dirty Tar Sands Fuel is Headed for New York

New York – New York state motorists will soon be filling their tanks with gas increasingly derived from dirty Canadian tar sands oil, undercutting State and New York City efforts to reduce carbon pollution, says a new report, “What’s in Your Tank? Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States Need to Reject Tar Sands and Support Clean Fuels,” from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). A copy of the report may be found here.

This development is yet another fossil fuel threat to New York’s environment, which is already at risk from large shipments of North Dakota crude oil rumbling through the state in rail cars to Albany, where it is loaded onto barges down the Hudson. There are unconfirmed reports that these same facilities could someday handle tar sands crude from Canada, which is even more difficult to clean up than conventional crude.

A major spill of either type could put at risk the billions of dollars that have been spent cleaning up the Hudson River’s environmental disasters and expose ill-prepared New York municipalities to potentially devastating consequences.

“This is a bad idea from every perspective,” said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates NY (EA). “The vast majority of New Yorkers have no clue this is happening, or are even considering that their communities are already a primary shipping hub for crude oil. Tar sands crude would be worse.  New York is not an oil producing state, so neither our infrastructure nor communities are prepared to handle the consequences of this scheme. Whether its short-term security or long-term climate change concerns, making New York the epicenter for oil shipping is as foolhardy as it is dangerous.”

According to the NRDC report, which was co-sponsored by EA, a flood of dirty fuel into the East Coast could soon undercut the region’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution – particularly Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent commitment to reducing greenhouse gas pollution  a full 80 percent by 2050.

NRDC found that under current plans, tar sands-derived gasoline supplies in New York and 10 other Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states (plus the District of Columbia) will soar from less than one percent to 11.5 percent of the total by 2020, due to increased imports from Canadian refineries, fresh supplies of refined tar sands products from the Gulf Coast, and production from East Coast refineries that would obtain tar sands crude via rail and barge.

New York State and New York City have been leaders in taking steps to cut dangerous carbon pollution, which is the major driver of climate change. Among the actions they’ve taken: adopting strong clean car standards and clean truck incentives, deploying electric vehicle charging stations, expanding the successful NY-Sun solar energy program and participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that reduces power plant emissions.  

But these important carbon savings would be squandered by using gasoline from tar sands, which emits 17 percent more carbon pollution than conventional gasoline measured on a life-cycle basis  (from initial extraction to burning in vehicles, or “well-to-wheels”.)

“Dirty gasoline supplies into New York State are set to rise significantly, unless the state takes steps to keep out high-carbon fuel,” said Danielle Droitsch, NRDC Canada Project Director. “By 2015 the volume of tar sands-derived fuel in the Northeast could grow sixfold, compared to 2012. This shows how important it is to move as quickly as possible to clean energy.”

If the controversial Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil from Canada to the United States is approved by President Obama, the region’s share of gas from tar-sands crude could rise even further, according to the report.

The report said the state leaders with the support of other New Yorkers need to take steps to clean up transportation. “First, they should demand that gasoline suppliers disclose the origin and the carbon intensity of the fuel, i.e., the amount of carbon emitted measured on a ‘well-to-gas-tank’ basis,” Droitsch said. “Second, they should enact policies to discourage the greater use of carbon-intensive fuels.”

The extraction and refining of oil from Alberta’s vast tar sands region, an area the size of Florida, is an energy-intensive process that destroys carbon-trapping forest lands and emits 81 percent more carbon pollution than conventional oil extraction and refining (‘well-to-tank’). NRDC and others oppose Keystone XL, which would carry Alberta’s tar sands oil through the heartland of America to Gulf Coast refineries, in part because it would enable a vast expansion in tar sands production.  As NRDC has explained, Keystone XL is primarily an oil export pipeline, but some portion of its refined products would flow to the East Coast. 

If dirty tar sands gasoline becomes a major share of supplies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, that would add millions more tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere each year—just as the region is aiming to cut such pollution under the landmark Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state pact, including New York, to combat climate change by reducing carbon pollution from power plants, according to the report. Hurricanes Sandy and Irene—the type of extreme weather that will become more frequent with climate change—have already wreaked billions of dollars of damage in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

The report also underscores the importance of promoting a wide variety of low-carbon and no-carbon transportation alternatives, from cleaner fuels to buses and rail, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly planning.