Scraping the bottom of the barrel: greenhouse gas emission consequences of a transition to low-quality and synthetic petroleum resources
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We investigate uncertainties about conventional petroleum resources and substitutes for conventional petroleum, focusing on the impact of these uncertainties on future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We use examples from the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios as a baseline for comparison. The studied uncertainties include, (1) uncertainty in emissions factors for petroleum substitutes, (2) uncertainties resulting from poor knowledge of the amount of remaining conventional petroleum, and (3) uncertainties about the amount of production of petroleum substitutes from natural gas and coal feedstocks. We find that the potential effects of a transition to petroleum substitutes on GHG emissions are significant. A transition to low-quality and synthetic petroleum resources such as tar sands or coal-to-liquids synfuels could raise upstream GHG emissions by several gigatonnes of carbon (GtC) per year by mid-century unless mitigation steps are taken.