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Volume 5, Issue 1

Feature: Fair comparison?
A new report on the carbon intensity of crude oil in Europe highlights dramatic disparities in lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of crudes produced from different oilfields, and points to significant reductions that could be achieved by infrastructure improvements, technology upgrades, and other measures. By far the largest sources of upstream emissions are natural gas flaring and tar sands extraction. The report, released by the International Council on Clean Transportation, provides detailed estimates of the carbon intensity of crude oil down to the level of individual fields and identifies the data needed to make those calculations. It appears as the European Commission nears a decision on the methodology for calculating lifecycle GHG intensity of fossil fuels, as part of the implementation of Article 7a of the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD). Globally, extracting, transporting, and refining crude oil on average accounts for about 18% of well-to-wheels GHG emissions—that is, the total emissions produced from oilfield to burning fuel to move a car. That equates to roughly five times the CO2 emissions of Germany. But these emissions vary significantly with source and type of crude and production methods. For the highest intensity crudes, extraction-to-refining constitutes around 40% of the overall carbon footprint, about 50g CO2/MJ. This compares to only about 5%, or 4g CO2/MJ, for the lowest intensity crudes. ‘The magnitude of the difference between the most and least polluting operations is enormous—a factor of 10,’ says Drew Kodjak, executive director of the ICCT. ‘The European Commission has an opportunity now to require that companies report the data necessary for those calculations.’


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