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.

How to phase out Alberta’s Oil Sands by 2040, including Just Transition principles

Gordon Laxer, Professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and founding director of the Parkland Institute, has released a new report, Act or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands .  He summarized the report  in an article,  “The case for phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands” , which appeared in Resilience  on May 23.   The full report reflects the author’s long and deep understanding of the political economy of Alberta. His fairly brief discussion of Just Transition principles occurs at the end of the report.

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plant

From Wikimedia, in the public domain. Syncrude Lake Mildred plant, Alberta.

Section 1 of Act or be Acted Upon discusses the market forces and policy environment in which the oil sands continues to operate – including a discussion of the cap on emissions put in place in the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan , and the issues of divestment and stranded assets. Looking for lessons to be learned, Section 2 examines the international and Canadian progress in banning coal-fired power, with a detailed look at Ontario’s experience and Alberta’s current efforts. The author emphasizes the importance of the health-based  arguments in Ontario’s campaign against coal, and suggests two possible motivators for an Alberta campaign against the oil sands: first,  the under-reported  health effects on residents and workers around Fort McMurray, the Peace River country, and the Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan,  and second, the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray in 2016.

Section 3: “Phasing out the oil sands”,  calls for a permanent moratorium on new projects and a schedule for shutting down older projects that have paid off their capital costs- starting with the Suncor and Syncrude projects  which are over 50 years old. Finally, the author calls for replacing the existing emissions cap under the Climate Leadership Plan with  “an annually lowering GHG ceiling on all remaining Sands projects until they collectively reach zero by 2040.”

The final section of the Green Paper states: “It’s vital that phasing out the Sands be accompanied by a well-thought-out plan to provide workers and communities in the Sands with alternative work and retraining…. A just transition is the right thing to do, but it is also needed because if workers involved in the Sands don’t see a sure-fire alternative, they will fight hard to hang on to the Sands jobs they currently have, which will hamper the changes Alberta and Canada need to make.”   Those looking for new approaches to Just Transition will have to hope that Professor Laxer writes another paper – in this one, he goes only so far as to endorse the Just Transition principles set out in the October 2016 paper from the UNFCCC,  Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs  .  To recap, those are: • Develop skills and retraining for green jobs  • Develop green enterprises • Promote government programmes to help the unemployed find work • Provide social protection • Minimize hardship for workers and address their needs • Consult all stakeholders to plan for a just transition.

Recalling the huge federal and provincial government research subsidies in the 1960’s that launched the oil sands, Professor Laxer concludes with this:  “The same governments now need to devote as much research money in today’s dollars to plan useful employment for Sands workers necessitated by the shift to a low-carbon future.”

after the SandsAct or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands  is a “Green Paper”, commissioned by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and presented to them in March 2017.  Related reading:  Gordon Laxer’s book from 2015 , After the Sands. Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians ;   and from the Parkland Institute:  Restructuring in Alberta’s oil industry: Internationals pull out, domestic majors double down (April 2017);  Five things to know about Alberta’s oil sands emissions cap   (Feb. 2017); Extracted Carbon: Re-examining Canada’s Contribution to Climate Change through Fossil Fuel Exports (Jan. 2017).

Kinder Morgan, Keystone pipelines move closer to reality as Canada is warned about its carbon budget

Prime Minister Trudeau set off an outcry in Alberta with these comments at the start of his cross-country tour in Peterborough, Ontario : “You can’t make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. We can’t shut down the oilsands tomorrow. We need to phase them out. We need to manage the transition off of our dependence on fossil fuels.”  In Calgary on January 24,  Trudeau defended his remarks in a town hall meeting in Calgary, summarized in “Calgary crowd cheers and boos Trudeau in showdown with oilsands supporters”   in the National Observer (Jan. 25) .

On January 11, British Columbia’s Premier Clark waived B.C.’s original five objections and approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline project (albeit with 37 provincial conditions) . Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley responded with:  “Working families shouldn’t have to choose between good jobs and the environment. World-class environmental standards and a strong economy that benefits working people must go hand-in-hand. The Kinder Morgan pipeline offers us an historic opportunity to demonstrate that these values can – and must – go hand in hand.”   Reaction to B.C.’s decision from West Coast Environmental Law is here ; or read “Did Christy Clark just betray British Columbia?” from Stand.earth, which continues to organize resistance to Kinder Morgan.

As anticipated, President Donald Trump wasted no time in approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, signing  Executive Orders on January 24.  Negotiations and further state-level approvals are still ahead, but Canada’s Trudeau government welcomed the news, according to a CBC report which quotes Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr : “it would be very positive for Canada — 4,500 construction jobs and a deepening of the relationship across the border on the energy file.”   In a joint response by Greenpeace USA and Greenpeace Canada, Mike Hudema of Canada stated:   “The question for Canadians is: will the Prime Minister continue to align himself with a climate denying Trump administration, or will he stand with the people and with science and start living up to his own commitments to the climate and Indigenous rights?”

According to a January report by Oil Change International (OCI), “Ultimately, the carbon mathematics is such that the Canadian government simply cannot have it both ways . There is no scenario in which tar sands production increases and the world achieves the Paris goals.”  Climate on the Line: Why new tar sands pipelines are incompatible with the Paris goals  continues with: “Cumulative emissions from producing and burning Canadian oil would use up 16% of the world’s carbon budget to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees, or 7% of the budget for 2 degrees. Canada has less than 0.5% of the world’s population.” ” There is no future in expanding tar sands production. Instead, the government should begin serious efforts now to diversify the economy, supporting a just transition for workers and communities.”  Andrew Nikoforuk summarized the report in The Tyee (Jan. 10); CBC Calgary interviewed experts in its analysis, “Could the oilsands really be phased out? Here are the possibilities” (January 21).

Kinder Morgan Pipeline approval: a new chapter in the struggle against pipelines

On November 29, the government of Canada announced  the highly anticipated decision   to approve the expansion of  two pipeline projects:   Line 3 (with 37 conditions) and the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline project (with 157 conditions). The Northern Gateway project was finally, officially dismissed.

Reaction, focused on Kinder Morgan,  was swift and strong and very critical on many grounds: economic, environmental, and as a betrayal of the rights of First Nations.  The Globe and Mail summarized reaction and quoted a Stand.earth representative that the decision “signals the beginning of a new phase in the struggle against pipelines” – which will include protests, the courts, and the ballot box.  And immediately, on December 1, a rally to support the Dakota Access Pipeline protests expanded to include Kinder Morgan protest, with over 1000 people on the streets of Victoria, B.C., according to the National Observer.  See also “Trudeau’s pipeline approvals spark protests” , which quotes the president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers: “”You can either be serious about climate change, or you can expand the tarsands. But you cannot do both.”  Others have written with the same message: UBC Professor Kathryn Harrison in the Globe and Mail   ; Simon Donner  in  “Blowing the Budget on Pipelines”  (Nov. 30) in Policy Options;  Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Analysis (CCPA) in a Policy Note article, “The New Climate Denialism“;  Tzeporah Berman, “Pipelines of Paris: Can Canada have its cake and eat it too? “. David Hughes’June 2016 report, Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? is again being widely cited.

The same message comes from a a Dec. 13 article, “ With Oil Sands Ambitions on a Collision Course With Climate Change, Exxon Still Stepping on the Gas”  by Inside Climate News (the Pulitizer Prize winning news organization whose reporting has sparked the current U.S. investigations into Exxon).  This highly detailed historical look at Imperial Oil investments and operations in Canada (complete with photos of Murray Westgate), concludes by noting the recent pipelines approvals, and states:  “Canadian officials, who have committed the nation to emissions cuts, continue to promote growth, even though environmentalists say the two are incompatible….Politicans are not being honest with Canadians.”

orcas-against-vancouver-skylineOpposition in the courts – with seven cases already underway – is being led by First Nations.  In an OpEd in the Globe and Mail, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs wrote: “ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to protect the health and safety of Canadians or uphold his government’s vaunted new relationship with First Peoples when he announced approval for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.”  He stated that there are  more than 10,000 “Coastal Protectors”   who are ready “to do what needs to be done to stop Kinder Morgan”. This is in addition to  the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion  formed  by 50 First Nations and tribes from all over Canada  and the Northern U.S. in in September 2016 – now over 100 –   to work together to stop all proposed tar sands pipeline , tanker and rail projects in their respective territorial lands and waters. And see  DeSmog blog,  “ Federal Liberals Approval of Kinder Morgan Is Final Nail in the Coffin of ‘Reconciliation’ . For a first-person account of First Nations reactions and mobilization, see “Field notes: A week of pipeline action and cross-Canada solidarity” from West Coast Environmental Law.

From Greenpeace :  “With this announcement, Prime Minister Trudeau has broken his climate commitments, broken his commitments to Indigenous rights, and has declared war on B.C. If Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to bring Standing Rock-like protests to Canada, he succeeded.”    Similarly, Common Dreams published  “Kinder Morgan Pipeline Might Be Canada’s DAPL ” (Dec. 4) , and  from ThinkProgress  , ” The next Standing Rock: Fossil fuel battles loom across North America“.

Representing reaction from ground zero, British Columbia:  The B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives blogged: “Trudeau disappoints a generation, betrays rights and title of Indigenous people with Kinder Morgan decision” .  Andrew Nikoforuk wrote in  The Tyee , “Kinder Morgan Approval Insults Democracy, Science and Economic Logic”   (Nov. 30) , that the decision “put his government on a collision course with First Nations and British Columbia’s coastal communities.” Robyn Allan, quoted by Nikoforuk, states:  “Trudeau has out-trumped Stephen Harper.”

 

Provincial Policy updates: Alberta

On November 1,  Bill 25, the Oil Sands Emissions Limits Act becomes the first attempt by any oil-producing jurisdiction to put a cap – in this case, 100 megatonnes per year –  on the emissions from its fossil fuel industry.  According to a National Observer article  the Alberta oilsands currently  emit about 66 megatonnes of greenhouse gases a year, and are expected to  reach 100 megatonnes by 2030. The legislation ensures that this level is not exceeded and gives producers incentives to minimize emissions in order to increase production. The Pembina Institute reacted with tepid approval, calling the legislation a key part of Alberta’s  Climate Leadership Plan.

On November 3, the government announced that it will soon introduce a Renewable Electricity Act, which will set a target of 30 per cent of electricity sourced from renewables  by 2030, and provide the legislative framework for a Renewable Electricity Program .  Projects will be privately funded under the program, and the government forecasts that there will be at least $10.5 billion of new investment by 2030, with at least 7,200 jobs created.   Seeing the writing on the wall, the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC), an industry group, has decided to allow wind, solar and other renewable energy companies to become members, according to a CBC report.    The advantages of setting a “30 by 30″target for renewables were outlined in an Open Letter to the Premier from several environmental groups and renewable energy companies in October.