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Why are California's Oils Some of the World's Dirtiest: A Panel with the Oil-Climate Index Team

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July 9, 2019

Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C as early as 2030. In an effort to limit the earth’s temperature rise beyond this point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has developed pathways to decarbonize energy supplies. Meeting these targets will be a tall order for the oil and gas sector. Massive reserves remain worldwide to manufacture transport fuels and countless consumer products. In California, where the oil industry took off 150 years ago, the climate impacts of petroleum are among the largest in the world.

Using an open-source tool developed by researchers at Stanford, Brown and the University of Calgary, the Oil-Climate Index quantifies the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from diverse petroleum resources. We find that a barrel of Midway Sunset oil, California’s largest field, is ten-times more carbon intensive to extract and refine than a barrel of West Texas Intermediate and has two-thirds higher lifecycle GHGs than the U.S. benchmark crude. These findings highlight the need to establish an oil data transparency regime and to craft innovative state, federal, and international policies to reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector during the transition away from fossil fuels. California and other Western states have the opportunity to be a leader in this effort.

  • Jonathan Koomey, Moderator, Special Advisor to the Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute
  • Deborah Gordon, Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
  • Adam Brandt, Associate Professor of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University
  • Joule Bergerson, Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair in Energy Technology Assessment, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Calgary