Oil sands companies called on to “keep it in the ground” – but Suncor opens new mine near Fort McMurray, deploys driverless trucks

Parkland report big oil coverThe majority of Alberta oil sands production is owned by the five companies: Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, and Husky Energy.  What the Paris Agreement Means for Alberta’s Oil Sands Majors, released on January 31 by the Parkland Institute, evaluates what the 2°C  warming limit in the  Paris Agreement means for those “Big Five” –  by assessing their  emissions-reduction disclosures and targets, climate change-related policies, and actions, in light of their “carbon liabilities.” The carbon liabilities are calculated using  three levels for the Social Cost of Carbon, ranging from $50, $100, and $200 per tonne. Even under the most conservative scenario, the carbon liabilities of each corporation are more than their total value, and the combined carbon liabilities of the Big Five ($320 billion) are higher than Alberta’s GDP of $309 billion. Conclusion: “the changes required to remain within the Paris Agreement’s 2°C limit signals a need for concrete, long-term “wind-down” plans to address the challenges and changes resulting from global warming, including the fact that a significant portion of known fossil fuel reserves must remain underground.” What the Paris Agreement Means for Alberta’s Oil Sands Majors was written by Ian Hussey and David Janzen, and published by the Parkland Institute as part of the SSHRC-funded Corporate Mapping Project.  A National Observer article reviewed the report and published responses from the Big Five companies on January 31.

autonomous electric mining truckRather than keeping it in the ground, Suncor Energy announced on January 29 that it is continuing to ramp up production at its Fort Hill oilsands mine, about 90 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.  The next day, Suncor also announced  the beginning of a 6-year phase-in of approximately 150 autonomous electric trucks at numerous locations. The company said it will “continue to work with the union on strategies to minimize workforce impacts,” and that “current plans show that the earliest the company would see a decrease in heavy equipment operator positions at Base Plant operations is 2019.”   Reaction from the local union is here in a notice on the website of Unifor 707A;  Unifor National Office response is here:  “Driverless trucks aren’t the solution for Suncor” .  The National Observer published an interview with a Suncor spokesperson on January 31.  According to”Suncor Energy says driverless trucks will eliminate a net 400 jobs in the oilsands” , Suncor is the first oil sands company to use driverless trucks, and “Suncor’s plan to test the autonomous truck systems was initially criticized by the Unifor union local because of job losses. But Little says Suncor is working with the union to minimize job impacts by retraining workers whose jobs will disappear. The company has been preparing for the switch by hiring its truck drivers, including those at its just−opened Fort Hills mine, on a temporary basis.”

The good news is that  “the era of oil sands mega-projects will likely end with Suncor Energy’s 190,000 barrel-per-day Fort Hills mining project, which started producing this month”, according to an article by Reuters.  The bad news is in the title of that article:  “Why Canada is the next frontier for shale oil” (Jan. 29) . The article extols the strengths of Alberta’s mining industry, and quotes a spokesman for Chevron Corporation who calls the Duvernay and Montney formations in Canada “one of the most promising shale opportunities in North America.”  For a quick summary, read   “Montney, Duvernay Oil and Gas Fields Seize the Momentum from Athabasca Tar Sands/Oil Sands” ( Jan. 31) in the Energy Mix.

Also,  consider the work of Ryan Schultz of the Alberta Geological Survey.  Most recently, he is the lead author of  “Hydraulic fracturing volume is associated with induced earthquake productivity in the Duvernay play”, which  appeared in the journal  Science on January 18 , and which is summarized in the  Calgary Herald  on January 18.  It discusses the complexities of how fracking has caused earthquakes in the area.

Canada’s progress on emissions reduction: New reports from OECD, UNFCCC , and policy discussion

An excellent overview article about Canada’s  “staggering challenge” and policy options to meet its emissions reduction targets appeared in The Conversation on January  11, 2018),  written by Warren Mabee, Director of the  Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen’s University and a Co-Investigator in  the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (  ACW) project.   “How your online shopping is impeding Canada’s emissions targets”  outlines  the issues of clean electricity, transportation emissions (where your online shopping can make a difference), greener homes,  and rethinking fossil resources, and concludes that  “If we’re to succeed, Canada will need an integrated, holistic suite of policies – and we need them to be in place soon.”

oecd-environmental-performance-reviews-canada-2017_9789264279612-enOther recent publications take stock of Canada’s emissions reductions in greater detail.  In its  3rd Environmental Performance Review for Canada released on December 19, the OECD warns that  “Without a drastic decrease in the emissions intensity of the oilsands industry, the projected increase in oil production may seriously risk the achievement of Canada’s climate mitigation targets… …“Canada is the fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the OECD [in absolute terms], and emissions show no sign of falling yet.”  Canada’s emissions actually did decrease since the last report was issued in 2004, but only by 1.5 per cent compared to reduction of 4.7 per cent by the OECD as a whole.  In addition to the impact of oil sands production, the OECD singles out a regime of poor tax incentives: “Petrol and diesel taxes for road use are among the lowest in the OECD, fossil fuels used for electricity and heating remain untaxed or taxed at low rates in most jurisdictions, and the federal excise tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles is an ineffective incentive to purchase low-emission vehicles.”

The OECD analysis finds support in a report from two researchers from the University of Toronto, in “How the oil sands make our GHG targets unachievable”   in Policy Options.  They state: “… only with a complete phase-out of oil production from the oil sands, elimination of coal for electricity generation, significant replacement of natural-gas-fuelled electricity generation with electricity from carbon-free sources, and stringent efficiency measures in all other sectors of the economy could Canada plausibly meet its 30 percent target.” The authors recommend a  gradual (12-to-15-year) phase-out of oil sands operations, with workers and capital redeployed to emerging sectors  such as renewable energy and building retrofits, and contend that  the importance of oil sands production is overstated. “….  the direct contribution of the entire oil, gas and mining sector to Alberta’s 2016 GDP was 16.4 percent, of which oil sands mining and processing was likely about one-third (or 5 to 6 percent of total provincial GDP)” ….and oil sands oil production is estimated to account for only 2 percent of Canadian GDP.”

Yet the federal government continues the difficult balancing act of a  “have-it-all” approach – for example, in a speech by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr  in November 2017, in which he defended the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline with: “We need to prepare for the future, but we must deal with the present …..That means continuing to support our oil and gas resources even as we develop alternatives – including solar, wind and tidal…. new pipelines will diversify our markets, be built with improved environmental safety and create thousands of good middle-class jobs, including in Indigenous communities. They were the right decisions then and they are the right ones now. ” A recent blog by Patrick DeRochie of Environmental Defence, “Trudeau Thinks We Can Expand Oil And Still Reduce Carbon. Let’s Put That To A Test” , challenges this view .

On December 29, Canada issued a press release announcing that it has submitted its Seventh National Communication and Third Biennial Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change , required by the UNFCCC to document progress towards its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 30% reduction from 2005 levels.  The title of the government press release, “Canada’s Climate action is Working, Report to United Nations Confirms” is justified by including estimates of the effects of policies still under development in a “with additional measures scenario”. Under that scenario, the government forecasts an emissions decline across all economic sectors,  equivalent to approximately a third of Canada’s emissions in 2015 by 2030… ”

Meanwhile, the federal government has released a number of announcements and legislative proposals in December 2017 and January 2018. Regarding  the planned carbon pricing backstop under the Pan-Canadian Framework, which will come into effect by January 2019:  Details are set out in:  Supplemental Benchmark Guidance   Timelines ,  and the Letter to Ministers in December, and on January 15, the  proposed carbon backstop  legislative framework was released as Legislative and Regulatory Proposals Relating to the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act and Explanatory Notes (French version here) .  Also on January 15, the federal government released for comment the proposed regulatory framework for  carbon pricing for large industrial facilities – an Output-based Pricing System (OBPS) described in more detail in a separate WCR post here.

On December 12, the  Clean Fuel Standard Regulatory Framework was released for comment.  The government has also committed to developing a national strategy for zero emission vehicles in 2018 to increase the supply of zero-emission vehicles.

Also on December 12, and capping six months of consultation under the banner Generation Energy,  the Minister of Natural Resources announced the creation of a 14-member Generation Energy Council to be co-chaired by Merran Smith,  Executive Director of Clean Energy Canada, and Linda Coady, Chief Sustainability Officer at Enbridge. (Bios of all members are here ). The council is tasked with preparing a  report to advise the government on an “ energy policy that ensures meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples; aligns with Canada’s Paris Agreement commitments and the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change; and complements the work being done by the provinces and territories, building on the shared priorities identified at the Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Meeting at the Forum.”

 

 

 

 

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).