Methane emissions in Canada- Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan finalize equivalency agreements despite new evidence of under-reporting

On November 5, Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change issued a press release announcing that the federal government has finalized equivalency agreements for methane regulations from the oil and gas industry with Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, for the next five years. “These equivalency agreements represent a flexible approach that enables provinces and territories to design methane regulations that best suit their respective jurisdictions while meeting equivalent emissions-reduction outcomes to the federal regulations.” These equivalency agreements have been in the works for months, during which time  Environmental Defense Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, and other groups  have lobbied for regulations to be tightened and for the reporting procedures to be improved.

These same groups were critical of the federal Emissions Reduction Fund, announced on October 29, to reduce methane and GHG emissions.  This $750-million  fund will provide “primarily repayable funding” to eligible onshore and offshore oil and gas firms to encourage them to invest in greener technologies. Details are at the government portal for the Emissions Reduction Fund . The Pembina Institute endorsed the Fund on the grounds that it could reduce emissions while improving health and creating jobs. More critical comments from Environmental Defense Canada are included in the Toronto Star report, “Justin Trudeau offers $750 million to oil and gas companies to slash methane emissions, but critics warn it isn’t enough” (Oct. 29).   

Updated: Scientific evidence shows under-reporting of methane emissions worse than thought

An interview with Dale Marshall, National Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defence Canada, appeared in The Energy Mix on November 16. Marshall criticizes the Equivalency Agreements, especially in light of a new article just published in Environmental Science and Technology , the scientific journal of the American Chemical Society.  “Eight-Year Estimates of Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Operations in Western Canada Are Nearly Twice Those Reported in Inventories” was written by Canadian government scientists, and provides damning evidence of the problem of under-reporting . The scientific article was summarized in lay terms in the National Observer on November 12.

Canada set its regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in 2018, targeting a reduction by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. It appears that Canada will miss its target, with modelling showing the reduction likely to be closer to 30%. The Pembina Institute has published fact sheets on methane regulations, and the International Energy Agency posted an overview of Canada’s methane emissions regulations and levels in February 2020 here .  The dangers of methane and the problem of underreporting fugitive emissions have been summarized in a January 2020 report from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health.  

Controversial New Water Legislation Introduced in B.C.

The B.C. Government introduced Bill 18, the Water Sustainability Act, on March 11th. It updates the current legislation passed in 1909, and “will bring groundwater into the licensing system, and will expand government’s ability to protect fish and aquatic environments “. See http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/ for the legislation and all supporting documents.

In a November 2013 posting during the lengthy consultation phase, the government had outlined how the proposed changes would impact oil and gas development, including a pledge that “in completing the new Act we are looking closely at the Oil and Gas Activities Act and the Environmental Management Act to ensure that surface and groundwater are protected during hydraulic fracturing operations” (see http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/2013/11/14/blog-post-6-water-and-oil-gas-development/). Yet on March 19, Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the Sierra Club of B.C. went before the Supreme Court of B.C., alleging that Encana has systematically avoided the current water licensing regulations by applying to the provincial Oil and Gas Commission for repeated “short term” water permits for fracking (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/encana-s-water-permits-for-b-c-fracking-illegal-lawsuit-alleges-1.2578788).

The aspect of pricing commercial and industrial water use has been deferred by a period of further consultations; see the consultation paper, Pricing B.C.’s Water, at: http://engage.gov.bc.ca/watersustainabilityact/files/2014/03/Pricing-B.C.s-Water.pdf. Public comments will be accepted until April 8th.

EU Proposes New Emissions Targets for 2030, Weak Regulation of Fracking, and No Extension to the European Fuel Quality Directive

After hard-fought negotiations, the members of the European Union finally agreed on January 22 to a compromise Framework proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, and a goal of producing 27% of all energy from renewable sources by 2030. The European carbon emissions trading system (EUTS) will be reformed, and the goal of improving energy efficiency by 25% by 2030 will be an “indicative target”, not legally binding. Fracking will also be governed by non-binding recommendations rather than regulation. Most significantly for Canada, the Fuel Quality Directive will not be renewed after its expiry in 2020 – a move away from the support of biofuels, and which might allow for Alberta oil to enter the European fuel supply chain. The Canadian government has lobbied actively for such a change.  

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See “EU May Scrap Green Fuel Law in Boon for Tar Sands Industry” at Inside Climate News http://insideclimatenews.org/content/eu-may-scrap-green-fuel-law-boon-tar-sands-industry, and for background, the Natural Resources Defense Council blog, Canadian Tar Sands Exports to Europe could Grow from a Trickle to a Flood Undermining Europe’s Climate Goals (Jan. 2014) at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/aswift/canadian_tar_sands_exports_to.html

The European Council will consider the framework proposals at its spring meeting in March.

From the EU Commissioner on Climate Action: “…The details of the framework will now have to be agreed, but the direction for Europe has been set. If all other regions were equally ambitious about tackling climate change, the world would be in significantly better shape.” Read the analysis from The Guardian (U.K.)(Jan.22) at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/22/eu-carbon-emissions-climate-deal-2030 and the New York Times (Jan. 22) at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/23/business/international/european-union-lowers-ambitions-on-renewable-energy.html?hp. The press release, with links to official documents, is at the European Commission website at: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-54_en.htm.

Environmental groups disagree with the positive spin: according to the Friends of the Earth Europe, the negotiators “…seem to have fallen for the old-think industry spin that there must be a trade-off between climate action and economic recovery. This position completely ignores the huge financial cost of dealing with the impacts of climate change and the €500 billion the EU is spending every year on oil and gas imports”. (at: https://www.foeeurope.org/2030_climate_energy_plan_220114). About fracking, the FOE had this to say: “… attempts to regulate the fracking industry have been undermined by heavy corporate lobbying and pressure from certain member states intent on fracking their lands.” … “With the heavy support from José Manuel Barroso, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Romania have all played a leading role in undermining shale gas legislation, with allies Hungary, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia.” See https://www.foeeurope.org/shale_gas_framework_220114. An article in The Guardian (Jan. 14) offers a detailed analysis of the significant role played by the U.K. to weaken the fracking regulations (see at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/14/uk-defeats-european-bid-fracking-regulations).

Canada’s New Voluntary Fracking Code of Conduct

The Petroleum Services Association of Canada has unveiled a new voluntary fracking code of conduct, signed by 11 companies. The code, which covers technical and environmental standard practice and guidelines for company engagement with stakeholders, comes after six months of nation-wide meetings with environmental and community groups, local governments and land owners. Industry representatives claim that most companies already follow the standards in the code, and that compared to other jurisdictions, Canada has long had stricter regulations on fracking. Read the press release by the Petroleum Services Association of Canada at: http://www.psac.ca/wp-content/uploads/PSAC_Media_Release_October_30.pdf and the Statement of Principles and full Code of Conduct from a link at: http://www.oilandgasinfo.ca/working-energy-commitment/hydraulic-fracturing-code-of-conduct/.

Anti-Fracking Regulations in California

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the State’s first fracking bill on September 20th, and released proposed regulations on November 15, launching a 60-day public comment period. The regulations, effective January 1, 2015, will require companies to obtain a permit before fracking, notify neighbours, disclose chemicals used, and monitor air and water quality; they also require independent scientific studies. Industry calls the new rules “extensive” while environmental groups have criticized the law for being too weak.

“Proposed Oil Well Fracking Regulations Released” from the Los Angeles Times (Nov.15) at: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-oil-well-fracking-regulations-released-20131115,0,1871535.story#axzz2klA1sM4A. Background and a link to the regulations are at the Department of Conservation website at: http://www.conservation.ca.gov/Index/Pages/Index.aspx.