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10.06.2010

Oil sands should be left in the ground: NASA scientist

Source: Globe & Mail, Oct 5, 2010

One of NASA's top scientists has told a panel reviewing a proposed oil sands mine in northern Alberta that the resource should simply be left in the ground.

James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies says allowing new developments such as Total E&P Canada's $9-billion plan to build the Joslyn North mine would make it too hard to manage the impact of climate change.

“The simple message is the oil sands may appear to be gold. We do need energy and there's a lot of potential energy in the oil sands,” Mr. Hansen said Tuesday during a break from public hearings in Sherwood Park, Alta.

“But it is fool's gold because it's going to be clear and understood within a reasonably brief period of time that we cannot exploit unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and tar shale. If we do, we're going to have to suck the CO2 back out of the atmosphere and the estimated cost of doing that is $200 to $500 a tonne of carbon.”

Hollywood director James Cameron came to a similar conclusion when he toured the oil sands last week. He said the resource could be a gift to Alberta and Canada in an energy-starved world, but could become a curse if not handled properly.

But Mr. Hansen, sometimes dubbed the godfather of climate-change science, goes even further. He said that burning the Earth's conventional oil has already contributed to a dangerous level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Adding oil sands crude and new coal supplies to the mix would be too much for the atmosphere to bear.

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