Methane regulations: a path to lower emissions and more jobs for Alberta

Dont Delay BlueGreen 2017 coverA July 2017  report by Blue Green Canada,   argues that the Alberta government should implement methane regulations immediately, rather than wait for the proposed federal regulations to take effect in 2023.    Speeding up regulations “could reduce air pollution, achieve our climate targets more cost-effectively, and create thousands of high-paying jobs in a single step”, according to Don’t Delay: Methane Emission Restrictions mean Immediate jobs in Alberta .  Blue Green estimates that Alberta’s oil and gas operations release $67.6 million worth of methane annually, and recovering it for energy use could create more than 1,500 new jobs in the province – well paid jobs,  including work in engineering, manufacturing, surveying, and administration.

Environmental organizations, labour groups and technology companies sent a joint Open Letter to Premier Rachel Notley in August, urging her to view the proposed federal methane regulations   as a floor, not a ceiling, and reiterating the argument for economic opportunity: “There are a number of innovative companies in Alberta ready to supply methane capture and detection technologies and services and a large majority of these companies report being poised for strong growth given the right regulatory signals.” The letter, from Blue Green Canada, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Iron and Earth, Keepers of the Athabasca, Pembina Institute, Peace River Environmental Society, Progress Alberta, Questor Technology, Unifor, and United Steelworkers is here.

Accelerating the target date for regulations is not the only concern.  “Five Ways Alberta Can Raise the Bar on Methane Regulations” at DeSmog Blog, (August 1) makes recommendations for tighter rules for venting and flaring, improved monitoring, and expanded scope. Also in August, the Environmental Law Centre of Alberta released Methane Reduction under the Climate Change Leadership Plan , the latest paper in its Climate Change Legal Roadmap series, which makes recommendations for improvements to both the provincial and federal regulations.  The task of developing methane regulations in Alberta falls to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), which has said that it is currently reviewing the feedback from its draft regulations, and will release a document for public comment in Fall 2017.

Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan in 2015 called for 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 2025. The Pan-Canadian Framework included a commitment to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent from 2012 levels by 2025, and in May 2017, the federal government released draft regulations beginning in 2020, with a second phase beginning in 2023.

Earlier, related reports:  In April, Environmental Defence released  Canada’s Methane Gas Problem: Why strong regulations can reduce pollution, protect health and save money , which demonstrated that methane emissions are higher than reported by industry: 60% higher in Alberta. Research funded by the David Suzuki Foundation and released in April, found that methane emissions in B.C. are 250% higher than reported.  The Cost of Managing Methane Emissions,  a June blog from the Pembina Institute, sheds light on the GHG savings to be had by instituting regulations.

In Alberta: A Call for Renewable energy legislation ; Government funds directed to methane emission reduction

On October 24, several renewable energy companies, industry associations and think-tanks released an Open Letter   to the Alberta government, urging it to establish in law  its commitment for renewables to supply at least 30 per cent of the province’s electricity by 2030.  Amongst several arguments in the Letter is one related to job creation:  “the fraction of construction jobs as well as head office jobs based in Alberta would be much higher and more stable under the larger market assured by a legislated target. Without the clarity of a legislated multiyear commitment, there is a risk that companies would keep Alberta operations to a minimum and with many of the jobs created in other jurisdictions.”    The arguments are supported by other documents at Pembina Institute, including Cheaper renewables spur companies to buy clean energy directly from producers .

This may be of interest to the Energy Diversification Committee announced  on October  13  , which is tasked to consult with Albertans and make recommendations in the fall of 2017 on how to increase the value of energy resources, create jobs and attract new investment. The press release gives examples of “value-added ideas” such  as partial upgrading, refining, petrochemicals and chemicals manufacturing.  Nothing about renewables.  The Committee website  names two Co-Chairs:  Gil McGowan, president of the  Alberta Federation of Labour , along with Jeanette Patell, government affairs and policy leader at  GE Canada   . Warren Fraleigh, Executive director of the Building Trades of Alberta is a member, along with business and First Nations representatives.

On October 21, the government of Alberta announced  that it will redirect  $33 million to  support medium- and long-term technologies  that reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas, agriculture and landfill sectors, as well as projects to improve methane detection and quantification. This initiative springs from  the commitment in the Climate Leadership Plan to  reduce methane emissions  by 45 per cent by 2025.  The augmented funding , which will total $40 million, will be administered by Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA),  which is the new name being given to the industry-sponsored Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation  .

 

 

U.S. EPA sets new rules for Methane Emissions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken what the  New York Times calls “A Much Needed Step on Methane Emissions” on May 13, to significantly reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas facilities as well as those undergoing modifications (although existing sites remain unregulated) . Read Inside Climate News  for a thorough report, which reminds us  that Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama committed in March 2016 to jointly pursue regulation of methane emissions at existing oil and gas facilities.

Canada- U.S. Climate Agreement to regulate Methane Emissions

trudeau obama announcementOn March 10, 2016,  following star-powered meetings between President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau in Washington, the   U.S.-Canada Joint Statement on Climate, Energy, and Arctic Leadership   (in French here ) was released.  Again, there were optimistic and positive reactions,  mainly centred on the provisions to work collaboratively on federal measures to reduce methane emissions.  Environment and Climate Change Canada has pledged “to publish an initial phase of proposed regulations by early 2017.”   Summaries of the agreement appear in “Trudeau vows to Clamp Down on Methane Emissions”   in the Globe and Mail (March 10) and “Obama and Canada’s Justin Trudeau Promote Ties and Climate Plan” in New York Times (March 10).  For reaction, read “How big a deal is Trudeau and Obama’s methane pact?” from the UVic PICS Newsletter ; “Why Closer Canadian-American collaboration on clean energy is a good thing”  at the Institute for Research in Public Policy ; and “Celebrating Crucial climate progress in Canada’s oil and gas sector”    , from the Pembina Institute. For a U.S. point of view, read “Sea Change: U.S. and Canada Announce Common Goals on Climate, Energy and the Arctic” from Inside Climate News, which summarizes the recent activity of the EPA regarding methane emissions.    The Natural  Resources Defense Council  calls for a commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies in From Dialogue to Results: Blueprint for Joint Climate Action and Clean Energy Deployment between Canada and the United States  , which the joint agreement did not do.

ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF B.C. LNG DEVELOPMENT

A May 2015 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives considers six possible scenarios for liquefied natural gas export development in B.C., ranging in the number of export terminals from zero to five (the current government estimate). A Clear Look at BC LNG: Energy Security, Environmental Implications and Economic Potential  states that government claims of available gas supplies for export are greatly exaggerated, and that production would involved massive disruption, given that most wells would be fracked wells. Further, author David Hughes argues that is unlikely that anything close to the revenue projected by the BC government will ever be realized. And beyond the environmental dangers to the citizens of B.C., LNG will not reduce global GHG emissions: “From wellhead to final combustion, there are substantial leakages of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Given this, liquefied fracked gas from BC actually has GHG emission rates similar to coal.”   Researchers who wish to pursue these concerns will welcome a new interactive planning tool, called the B.C. Shale Scenario Tool , available online at the Pembina Institute website. It allows users “ to quantify the potential impacts of shale gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) development in northeast B.C. in terms of carbon pollution, land disturbance, water use and wastewater.”