tar-sands.jpg I’m about to reveal Canadian state secrets: William Shatner is an overacting jerk. The tar sands are an unfixable climate disaster.

Lock me up in Gitmo! Or wherever the Canadian version of that hellhole is. I’m guessing Athabasca.

The Onion CBC News reports:

CBC News has obtained a government document that says reducing greenhouse gases from Western Canada’s oilsands will be much more difficult than some politicians and the industry suggest.

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The ministerial briefing notes, initially marked “Secret,” say that just a small percentage of the carbon dioxide released in mining the sands and producing fuel from them can be captured.

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The oilsands are the fastest-growing source of CO2 in the country, set to increase from five per cent to 16 per cent of total emissions by 2020 under current plans.

Capturing the gas and pumping it underground has been the key public strategy for reducing the oilsands industry’s contribution to global warming.

Only in Canada is it a government secret that conservative politicians and the fossil-fuel industry lie to further their agenda. At least in the good old United States of America, our state secrets are really secretive stuff like torture and eavesdropping.

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Note 1 to CBC: Please stop with the “oilsands” euphemism. No doubt it makes it seem like, say, up through the sand comes a bubblin’ crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea, Athabasca euphemism. The stuff is tar. And it’s buried in sand.

Note 2 to CBC: Speaking of euphemisms, “the key public strategy for reducing the oilsands industry’s contribution to global warming” is an odd sort of a phrase to use for what your story clearly shows is in fact “the key public relations strategy for reducing opposition to the oilsands industry.”

Given that large-scale, commercial carbon capture and storage of CO2 at coal plants has been floundering everywhere even though the CO2 stream can be quite concentrated (discussed here), it can hardly be surprising that a far more challenging technical problem is basically a dead end. As the CBC explains:

The briefing notes, obtained by CBC News under freedom-of-information legislation, are based on the findings of a joint Canada and Alberta task force on carbon capture and storage.

Not concentrated enough

Little of the oilsands’ carbon dioxide can be captured because most emissions aren’t concentrated enough, the notes say. For efficient capture, there must be a high concentration of CO2 coming out of a smoke stack.

“Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” the notes say. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”

The Canadian and Alberta governments are spending about $2.5 billion on developing carbon capture and storage, and the oilsands generally come up as the first reason for spending the money.

In March, when he repeated a $240-million federal commitment to a project in Saskatchewan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: “This new technology, carbon capture and storage, when fully commercialized … will collect carbon dioxide emissions from oilsands operations and coal-fired electrical plants and seal them deep underground.”

The briefing notes, which went to federal and provincial politicians, were produced months before Harper’s announcement. The carbon capture task force issued a public version of its final report in January.

David Keith, a professor of petroleum and chemical engineering at the University of Calgary, was the lead scientist on the task force.

He says he’s frustrated that politicians and the industry keep focusing on the oilsands when there are sources of greenhouse gases to capture more easily and at less cost, including coal-fired power plants.

Rational people shouldn’t focus on reducing emissions in the oilsands through carbon capture and storage, Keith says.

“The actual content of the briefing note is a pretty fair summary of the technical situation we have,” he told CBC News.

I know Keith. He’s a pretty smart guy, except for the part about imagining that politicians might be rational people. But he is a Canadian, so that possibly explains his naïveté.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.