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.  

Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard Framework released

On December 13, the Government of Canada released its  Clean Fuel Standard Regulatory Framework, the latest stage in the  development of regulations to complement the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, by achieving  30 megatonnes of annual reductions in GHG emissions by 2030.  The standard will apply to all fuels – gasoline and diesel, but also aviation fuel, natural gas for heating, and metallurgical coal. It  will also apply to the full life cycle of fuels –  the first jurisdiction in the world to do so, according to the Pembina Institute .  The Clean Fuel Standard process began in November 2016, with consultations held throughout 2017,  largely focused on the government’s Discussion Paper (February 2017).   Comments received in that consultation were compiled  in a November report:  Clean fuel standard: Summary of stakeholder written comments on the Discussion Paper.   In response to the December Framework release, comments on the technical details will be accepted from  industry, provincial  governments, non-governmental organizations until January 19, 2018. Draft regulations are promised for  late 2018.

The Pembina Institute reaction  highlights three noteworthy aspects of the proposed Canadian Fuel Standard Framework:  1. Sustainability and indirect land-use change issues are sidelined –  which is “concerning and unacceptable” ;  2. Canada’s existing  federal Renewable Fuels Regulations will remain in place for a short-term transition period, and the new GHG-intensity-based clean fuel standard will eventually replace them – ( an approach  Pembina has previously recommended in its April 2017 submission to the government ); and  3.  Pembina urges  “the importance of timelines” – i.e. the longer it takes to implement these regulations, the more stringent they must be if Canada is to meet its emissions reduction target for 2030.

How important is the Clean Fuel Standard?  It has been called the single most important policy tool to achieve Canada’s emissions reductions target for 2030.  And in November 2017, Clean Energy Canada published “What a Clean Fuel Standard can do for Canada”  in which Navius Research used two in-house models to simulate the impact of different Clean Fuel Standard designs on Canada’s economy.  The report concluded, among other beneficial effects :  “The policy would increase economic activity in clean fuels in Canada by up to $5.6 billion a year in 2030. It would also create up to 31,000 jobs for the skilled workers needed to build, operate and supply new clean fuel facilities.”   A separate Technical Report  explains the modelling and provides much more detail about all projections, including employment projections.

Also of interest: From the EcoFiscal Commission,  A delicate (im)balance: policy interactions and the federal clean fuel standard  and an April 2017  Submission to the Clean Fuels Standard  consultations  from the Pembina Institute, Equiterre, Environmental Defence, and the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group recommends a roadmap for the 100 megatonne emissions cap

The provincial government released  the consensus report of  Phase 1 of the Alberta Oil Sands Advisory Group on June 16 – proposing  a process to comply with the the legislated 100 megatonne emissions limit for oil and gas production, as required by the Climate Leadership Plan.  The recommendations for early action focus on encouraging lower emission intensity production through technological innovation, and building information and reporting systems to drive improvements.  Those information systems could also trigger reviews and possible penalties  if emissions approach  80%  or 95% of the  100 megatonne limit. According to an article in Energy Mix,  “The industry is staking its future on the hope that it can simultaneously increase production and reduce production emissions, an approach that is seen as favouring the largest operators in the tar sands/oil sands over smaller companies. ” An article in the Edmonton Journal provides commentary from the oil industry perspective.

The Executive Summary of the report is here ; the full Report is here . The government will start consultations  with key stakeholders immediately,  before proceeding with Phase 2 of policy design. The goal is to have regulations in place by 2018.

Canada will miss 2020 Copenhagen Emissions Target, says Environment Commissioner

The Report from the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development states that, in addition to failing to develop a national framework, enact any legislation that targets climate change, or release long-awaited oil and gas regulations, Canada’s tar sands monitoring is inadequate, neglects cumulative impacts, and lacks a plan beyond next year. The tar sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of emissions. Commissioner Gelfand also highlighted uncertainty surrounding which projects are subject to an environmental assessment and inadequate public and aboriginal consultation following the introduction of Bill-C45 in 2012, which profoundly altered environmental legislation in Canada. She also noted the dire need to improve planning in the Arctic, as shipping increases in the absence of updated navigation information or emergency response strategies.

Read the 2014 Fall Report of Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development at: http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_cesd_201410_e_39845.html (English), and http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/Francais/parl_cesd_201410_f_39845.html (French). The Commissioner appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to discuss her report on October 8; see the transcript at:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6723122&Language=e&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=2(English), and http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?DocId=6723122&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=2&Language=F (French). See “Highlights of the Environment Commissioner’s Fall Report” from the CBC at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/highlights-of-environment-commissioner-s-fall-report-1.2790164.

For reaction see “Commissioner’s report shows Canada must do more for environment” from the David Suzuki Foundation at: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2014/10/commissioners-report-shows-canada-must-do-more-for-environment/; “Treading Water on Climate Change: Sierra reacts to Environment Commissioner’s Report” from Sierra Club Canada at: http://www.sierraclub.ca/en/report-fail; and “No Overall Vision:” Scathing New Audit from Environment Commissioner Exposes Canada’s Utter Climate Failure” from Desmog Canada at: http://www.desmog.ca/2014/10/07/no-overall-vision-scathing-new-audit-environment-commissioner-exposes-canada-s-utter-climate-failure.

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/.