SOA Air Pollution: Statistics Prove Olive Oil Is Dirtier Than Alberta Bitumen!

It's the end of the world as we know it! (not)

It’s the end of the world as we know it! (not)

Back in February 2012, the Federal and Alberta government’s Environment ministries announced a “world class” joint initiative to monitor the environmental impact of the Alberta Oilsands. The program was allocated $50 million per year to monitor the water, air, and animal habitats- funding was provided with money obtained from the Oilsands industry.

In August and September 2013, scientists from the federal Environment Ministry filled a plane filled with “sophisticated scientific instruments” and collected air quality data on 20 separate four-hour flights. The CBC reported that they “followed plumes of pollution from the oilsands as they headed downwind,” collecting data as air particulate turned into Secondary Organic Aerosols (SOAs)- pollutants created by a chemical reaction when floating particles interact with sunlight.

Almost three years later, the ministry finally published their results this week in the scientific journal Nature. Canadian journalists, unable to resist the temptation of a good Oilsands scare story, jumped on the report quicker than Elizabeth May on a bottle of extra strength Nyquil. The Globe and Mail warned that Oilsands dust is a “leading source” of air pollution, the CBC called it “huge”. But what the media didn’t tell their readers is that, from the perspective of SOA emissions, there’s a much dirtier oil on the market- and it’s proudly displayed on supermarket shelves across the country!

It’s All About Context:


Is your living room a climate crime scene?

The government’s study on Oilsands region SOAs came to the conclusion that there is somewhere between 45 to 84 tons of this silent killer created each and every day. This means that the annual production of SOAs might be somewhere between 16,425 and 30,660 tonnes.

The CBC’s story explained that the Oilsands daily SOA output is equal to that of the Greater Toronto area- “even though the oilsands take up a relatively small area, geographically”. It’s a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, Toronto is a concrete jungle, there’s not a lot of dust being stirred up into the air.

The vast majority of particulate that’s blown into the air, the catalyst for SOAs, comes from natural sources- estimates are that only about 10% is created by human activity. Toronto’s estimated output is mostly created by exhaust from motor vehicles and other combustion engines. Oilsands emissions are generated by oil industry machinery, vehicle emissions, and industrial dust.

A 2011 study identified that Alberta’s coal-fired power plants emitted about 1,800 tonnes of emissions. Residential fireplaces almost doubled the coal plants with 3,400 tonnes. Alberta’s genocidal agriculture industry exceeded the low estimate of Oilsands emissions with 15,300 tonnes- bastards!

The climate criminals in the construction industry output about four times Oilsands emissions with 129,900 tonnes. But if you’re really looking for someone to hate, point your fingers at Albertan drivers- their fleets of SUVs and F-450 monster trucks dusted up a horrifying 223,100 tonnes!

But biggest culprit of all had nothing to do with the fireplaces, farms, and gas guzzlers owned by fine people of Alberta. The climate criminal was Mother Nature herself. Output from forest fires made Oilsands emissions look like a rounding error- pumping out a whopping 1,715,000 tonnes of planetary genocide!

Olives, The Other Dirty Oil:

Olives are more sinister than you ever imagined

Olives are more sinister than you thought…

Oilsands opponents have put an extraordinary amount of effort into tarring (pun intended) the reputation of Alberta’ bitumen as “dirty oil”. Oilsands supporters have put an equal amount of effort into pointing out that there’s much dirtier oil on the planet- California and Nigeria are often used as examples.

That said, from an SOA perspective, did you know that the dirtiest of all oils comes from climate criminals in countries like Portugal, Spain, and Greece? A 2013 paper published in the journal of the European Geosciences Union outed the real culprit- olive farmers.

According to the paper’s estimates, Greek olive producers emit over 11,000 tons of organic aerosols each year by burning branches they’ve pruned off of olive trees. Curiously, following the same pattern as this week’s Oilsands report, the study also compared olive farming to vehicle emissions- explaining that the impact of burning olive branches is “quite high compared for example to the annual emissions of the passenger cars (150 tons per year).”

Greece produces approximately 20% of the global olive market, assuming that other countries prune a similar volume of branches off of their trees, the olive industry creates over 55,000 tonnes of SOAs each year. That’s 25,000 tonnes more than the environment ministry’s highest estimate for the Oilsands.

So, does this mean that Unico is the new Suncor?

Lies, Damned Lies, And Statistics:

Vegans are the new climate criminals!

Vegans are the new climate criminals!

Fearmongering is a great way to sell newspapers. It’s pretty easy too, particularly if one has some statistics to throw around. In this case, media reports compared the apples of the Oilsands to the oranges of Greater Toronto. They also neglected to mention the inconvenient truth how the massive volume of forest fire emissions make the impact of the Oilsands look like a rounding error.

So, now that you’re aware of the environmental impact of producing olive oil, you might want to think twice before you order a Greek salad. And next time some self-righteous vegan takes a shot at the Oilsands, ask them if that’s olive oil you see floating in their hummus and enjoy the spectacle of watching their heads explode.

[Warning: This story’s thesis calling olive oil dirtier than Oilsands was created using statistics, use it at your own risk]


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