Oil activity raises serious questions about climate change

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By Peter Armitage

I was pleased to read your mention of “environmental concerns” in your recent celebration of Statoil’s an-nouncement of “up to 600 million barrels of recoverable oil in the Flemish Pass” (Cheers & Jeers, Sept. 30).  

I couldn’t help but notice the juxtaposition of this announcement with news of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, which is available to the public online.

The IPCC reported that “The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (C02), methane and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. C02 concentrations have increased by 40 per cent since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30 per cent of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.”

Furthermore, “Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system” (Summary for Policymakers).

The government of Newfoundland and Labrador itself notes in its 2011 climate change action plan (available online) that “the combustion of fossil fuels is one of the largest sources of (green house gas) emissions on the planet and accounts for approximately 90 per cent of (green house gas emissions) emissions in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Furthermore, in 2009, the “largest source of (green house gas emissions) in the province were large industry (42 per cent), transportation (31 per cent), power generation (nine per cent) and waste (seven per cent).”

“Much of the growth in Newfoundland and Labrador’s green house gas emissions  since 1990 can be attributed to the strong economic growth experienced in the offshore oil sector and other large industries.”

In light of both Statoil’s announcement and the most recent IPCC findings, we need to ask a number of hard questions, and get answers to them quickly.

For a start, how much additional carbon will the exploitation of the Flemish Pass oil release into the atmosphere? I’m talking not just about carbon emissions related to producing, transporting and refining the oil; I’m talking about the consumption of the oil, as well. Has anyone done a well-to-wheels analysis of the total emissions we can expect from this oil?  

I could not find information on government, Statoil or Husky Energy websites that speaks directly to these questions. However, I note that “Statoil acknowledges the scientific consensus on human-induced climate change, and supports the efforts of the UN and its member states to agree on and implement necessary climate measures to reach the required global ambition level to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Secondly, how will the exploitation of the newly discovered oil help us in our collective “transition to a low-carbon future”?

Thirdly, in what way will the exploitation of the Flemish Pass oil help the province and Canada meet internationally agreed-upon goals of preventing the planet’s atmosphere from heating up by more than two degrees Celsius?

Peter Armitage writes from St. John’s.

Organizations: Statoil, IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Husky Energy UN

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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  • Dr Ian Simpson
    October 17, 2013 - 16:28

    Right on Peter, Our Grandchildren are going to wonder why, and how we, ( our generation ), missed out. Global warming, followed by excessive population growth is obviously the most serious environmental problems for the next generation. And our generation is failing them. Thank you Peter.

  • Cashin Delaney
    October 15, 2013 - 22:54

    "preventing the planet’s atmosphere from heating up by more than two degrees Celsius" is not a primary worry of Newfoundland, as is the direct, negligent pollution of the ocean by oil extraction and the purging of effluent by our other multi-nutcase metal eating profit cults. Not saying we shouldn't study climate, but do we let weather instability, and all it's challenges, sit second to climate change because we love to "fix" stuff far in the future, while the walls fall around our feet? Do we study the nuances of "anthropogenic interference with the climate system" while erratic weather hits us harder every year? Oil will fall out of fashion in time, just like whaling. Whether we produce oil or not, the capital that wants to do it, will do it elsewhere, even dirtier. We will never run out of oil. It is the next abundant liquid to water on, and in earth. We are carbon-based life forms, so “transition to a low-carbon future” sounds rather ominous. Gwynne Dyer and David Suzuki are all over this angle. Newfoundlanders at home must consider the here and now, and get some infrastructure, instead of moaning about the Earth in abstraction.

  • Alison Dyer
    October 15, 2013 - 11:21

    Thank you for writing this Mr. Armitage. Climate Change is of such importance, we should have print columnists dedicated to such, just as we do business, lifestyle, etc.