Oil and Gas Sector Contributed Almost One Quarter of Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On April 11th, a Friday afternoon, Environment Canada quietly released its annual national greenhouse gas emissions inventory, as required by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). National emissions decreased by 0.3% between 2010 and 2012, but overall trends confirm that Canada is on track to significantly miss its commitment to a 17% decrease by 2020. Most provinces have cut their overall emissions, although Alberta’s have increased by 7% between 2005 and 2012, mainly because the oil sands experienced an 80% emissions increase. The oil sands alone now account for 9% of total Canadian emissions, while the oil and gas sector overall contributes about one quarter.

Signs of progress are emerging in the manufacturing and transportation sectors, and electricity emissions intensity is decreasing, largely attributable to efficiency improvements and the Ontario coal phase-out, which reduced the province’s electricity emissions by 56%.

Reaction from P.J. Partington, an analyst at the Pembina Institute, calls for Canada to make good on its promise to introduce national oil and gas regulations. See National Inventory Report 1990-2012: Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks in Canada at the Environment Canada website at: http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/default.asp?lang=En&n=3808457C-1&offset=6&toc=show (English version), and http://www.ec.gc.ca/ges-ghg/default.asp?lang=Fr&n=3808457C-1 (French version).

For P.J. Partington’s blogs, go to “Big shiny trends: Canada’s new emissions numbers” at: http://www.pembina.org/blog/789; “Oil Sands Talking Point collides with Reality” at: http://www.pembina.org/blog/787; and “Getting Back in Gear: Oilsands Climate Performance” at: http://www.pembina.org/blog/788. The U.S. released its UNFCC National Inventory documents in the same week, showing that U.S. emissions are now 10% below 2005 levels, the lowest they have been in 20 years. Go to: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/usinventoryreport.html.

Oil Sands Emissions – Even Greater than we Thought

From researchers at the University of Toronto, a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on February 3 finds that emissions of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from tar sands operations may be two or three times higher than previously reported in official estimates if fumes coming from tailings ponds are included in measurements. A summary of the study is at the CBC website at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/oilsands-air-pollutants-underestimated-researchers-find-1.2521134. The full article, “Evaluating Officially Reported Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Emissions In The Athabasca Oil Sands Region With A Multimedia Fate Model” is available at: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/01/29/1319780111.

A second article published in Environmental Science and Technology, the journal of the American Chemical Society, uses new technology to measure and differentiate between naturally occurring pollution from bitumen deposits and pollution from oil sands processing. The authors conclude that “oil sands process-affected water (OSPW)” from tailings ponds is reaching the Athabasca River system. The research was conducted under Environment Canada’s regular research program – and not surprisingly, Environment Canada told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that it was unable to provide an interview with the report’s main author, Richard Frank.

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“Profiling Oil Sands Mixtures from Industrial Developments and Natural Groundwaters for Source Identification” appears in Environmental Science and Technology Article ASAP (Jan. 21, 2014); an abstract is available at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es500131k (full text available for a $35 fee). The Edmonton Journal summary is at: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/Federal+study+confirms+oilsands+tailings+found/9530481/story.html.

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Energy East Pipeline Could Increase Canada’s Emissions More than Keystone

A new report from the Pembina Institute says that TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline could increase Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 32 million tonnes per year, surpassing estimates for Keystone XL. The new pipeline would have the capacity to transport 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta to New Brunswick. Terminals near Rivière-du-Loup and in Saint John would likely export crude by tanker. Climate Implications of the Proposed Energy East Pipeline argues that because the oil sands are “land-locked”, pipelines are a vital component of accessing international markets and are therefore directly linked to rising oil sands emissions. Pembina asserts that the National Energy Board should consider those “upstream” effects as part of Energy East’s environmental impact assessment, though it has neglected to do so for past pipelines.
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See Climate Implications of the Proposed Energy East Pipeline and the media release at: http://www.pembina.org/pub/2519.
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Canada Reports Climate Progress: 2020 Targets Further out of Reach as Oil Sands Emissions Rise

In late December, Canada quietly submitted its sixth report to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), opting not to accompany the submission with an announcement or press release. The government reported a trend of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, largely attributable to the rapidly expanding oil sands, and admits that Canada is on track to miss the 2020 emissions reduction targets committed to in Copenhagen. The report emphasizes the “sector-by-sector” approach to emissions reduction programs, but also indicates that a lack of policy intervention in the oil and gas industry could mean Canada’s emissions will exceed the 2020 target by 20%, and continue to grow another 33% by 2030. Canada has not indicated how it plans to address its difficulties with meeting its targets, and in December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the long-awaited release of oil and gas regulations could be delayed for another two years. The issue may be a factor in President Obama’s Keystone XL pipeline decision, which he has said would be influenced by Canada’s climate plan.

By contrast, the US submission to the UNFCC contains specific goals associated with the Climate Action Plan implemented by President Obama last summer. The submission was further substantiated by the January 16th release of a progress report on the Plan, outlining US federal initiatives to reduce carbon pollution and increase energy efficiency.

LINKS:

Canada’s Sixth National Communication and First Biennial Report on Climate Change (January 2014): The Executive Summary is available at: http://www.ec.gc.ca/Publications/default.asp?lang=En&xml=109109A8-6636-418C-B743-94CD3459FB6B, and the full report is available at: http://www.unfccc.int/files/national_reports/non-annex_i_natcom/submitted_natcom/application/pdf/final_nc_br_dec20,_2013%5B1%5D.pdf.

“Emissions will Soar after 2020 without Oil-sector Regulation, Federal Report Says” in the Globe and Mail (Jan. 8, 2014) at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/emissions-will-soar-after-2020-without-oil-sands-regulation-federal-report-says/article16250220/.

“Canada’s New Emission Rules on Hold Again, Harper Says” in the Globe and Mail (Dec. 19, 2013) is at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canadas-new-emissions-rules-on-hold-again-harper-says/article16065033/.

2014 U.S. Climate Action Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is available at: http://www.state.gov/e/oes/rls/rpts/car6/index.htm.

January 2014 Progress Report: President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/fact_sheet_-_cap_progress_report_2014-01-16.pdf.