Just before the recent federal election in Canada, the Liberal party committed to planting two billion trees over the next 10 years, the cost of which is to be “offset by forthcoming revenues from the Trans Mountain pipeline.” However, a closer look at the proposed deal shows that sequestration of carbon dioxide by two billion trees will never compensate for the additional emissions generated by the expansion of the TMEX pipeline.
According to the Liberal Party pamphlet, over a ten-year period, planting a total of 2 billion trees is estimated to absorb and store about 30 million tons of carbon dioxide. How does that compare to the emissions caused by the new pipeline?
The TMEX, when operational, is intended to increase the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline by 590,000 barrels a day. Production in the tar sand region will ramp up to meet this newly available capacity. That’s the whole point of building a pipeline. Mining and refining bitumen from the tar sands deposits produces large emissions of greenhouse gases. According to the Oil Climate Index, emissions from the tar sands are estimated to be as high as 174 kg of equivalent carbon dioxide per barrel of crude.
Doing the math, we can calculate that ramping up production by 590,000 barrels a day will generate an additional 37.5 million tons of greenhouse gases a year. So over a ten year period, the TMEX pipeline will generate emissions of about 375 million tons of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e). During the same period the 2 billion trees will sequester less than one tenth of the carbon in these emissions. To put the additional pipeline emissions in context, 37.5 MtCO2e a year is greater than the combined emissions of the cities of Calgary and Toronto, which in 2016 were respectively 18.2 and 18.3 MtCO2e/year. So operationalising the TMEX pipeline is like adding two major Canadian cities to the landscape.
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