Canadian oil companies rely on carbon capture technology in their new net zero alliance

On June 9, five Canadian oil companies –  Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy – announced their alliance in the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero initiative, whose goal is to achieve net zero GHG emissions from their operations in Alberta’s oil sands by 2050 (but not including the emissions created from the oil consumption after it is extracted).  Importantly, the companies still forecast a global demand for oil, so they do not discuss reducing production, but rather they will rely on a Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) trunkline running from the Fort McMurray and Cold Lake regions to a carbon sequestration hub near Cold Lake Alberta. Other means to reduce GHG’s will include existing technologies at oil sands operations, including “CCUS technology, clean hydrogen, process improvements, energy efficiency, fuel switching and electrification”, as well as  “potential emerging emissions-reducing technologies including direct air capture, next-generation recovery technologies and small modular nuclear reactors.”   

The companies are aided in developing these new technologies by the federal government, which announced a $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund in October 2020 , providing loans to promote investment in greener extractive technologies. It is hardly surprising then that the new alliance calls for “ Collaboration between industry and government” , and in case that wasn’t clear enough, the press release continues: “In addition to collaborating and investing together with industry, it is essential for governments to develop enabling policies, fiscal programs and regulations to provide certainty for this type of long-term, large-scale investment. This includes dependable access to carbon sequestration rights, emissions reduction credits and ongoing investment tax credits. We look forward to continued collaboration with both the federal and Alberta governments to create the regulatory and policy certainty and fiscal framework needed to ensure the economic viability of this initiative.”  

Professors Kathryn Harrison,  Martin Olszynski, and Patrick McCurdy offer guidance on how to read the Alliance goals, in “Why you should take oilsands giants’ net-zero pledge with a barrel of skepticism” in The National Observer (June 10). “Alberta is gambling its future on carbon capture” (The National Observer,  June 11) compiles reaction (mostly skeptical) from Environmental Defence and the Pembina Institute. The Energy Mix reacted with: “Fossils’ ‘Net-Zero’ Alliance has no Phaseout Plan, Relies on Shaky Carbon Capture Technology”, which surveys a broader range of reaction and quotes Pembina Institute’s Alberta regional director, Chris Severson-Baker, at length.  

Canada’s banks continue to finance oil and gas

A report released at the end of April examines the performance and the links between Canada’s oil companies and the big banks which form Canada’s “comfortable oligopoly”: Royal Bank (RBC), Toronto-Dominion Bank ,Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, and the National Bank of Canada. Fossilized Finance: How Canada’s banks enable oil and gas production  is written by Donald Gutstein and published by by the B.C. Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as part of its Corporate Mapping Project. The report outlines the bank presence in the Canadian energy sector since the collapse of oil prices in 2014 – lending, underwriting, advising and investing. It also examines interlocking directorates, executive transfer, industry conference sponsorships and industry association memberships.This reveals different details than the international report, Banking on Climate Chaos, published by BankTrack in late March.

While acknowledging that the banks have begun to invest in some renewable energy projects, Fossilized Finance shows that this leopard has not changed its spots:

“In contrast to the need to reduce financing of fossil fuels, banks actually increased their lending and commitments to the industry by more than 50 per cent—to $137 billion—between 2014 and 2020. Toronto-Dominion, in particular, upped its lending by 160 per cent over the seven-year period, to nearly $33 billion in 2020. As well, banks have invested tens of billions of dollars in fossil fuel and pipeline company shares. Here, Royal Bank leads the pack with nearly $21 billion invested in the top 15 fossil fuel and pipeline companies as of November 2019. Banks continue to underwrite fossil fuel company stock and bond issues, and they continue to provide key advice on mergers, acquisitions and other corporate moves.”  

Many of the researchers involved in the CCPA/Corporate Mapping Project have written chapters in Regime of Obstruction: How Corporate Power blocks Energy Democracy, a book edited by William Carroll and published by Athabasca University Press. Readers of the WCR may be particularly interested in Chapter 15, “From Clean Growth to Climate Justice” by Marc Lee, but all the excellent chapters are available for free download here.  The publisher’s summary states: “Anchored in sociological and political theory, this comprehensive volume provides hard data and empirical research that traces the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry through economics, politics, media, and higher education. Contributors demonstrate how corporations secure popular consent, and coopt, disorganize, or marginalize dissenting perspectives to position the fossil fuel industry as a national public good. They also investigate the difficult position of Indigenous communities who, while suffering the worst environmental and health impacts from carbon extraction, must fight for their land or participate in fossil capitalism to secure income and jobs. The volume concludes with a look at emergent forms of activism and resistance, spurred by the fact that a just energy transition is still feasible. This book provides essential context to the climate crisis and will transform discussions of energy democracy.”    

If you are outraged by what these researchers reveal, a personal option to switch banks is now made easier through the Bank Green website, launched in April in association with BankTrack. So far, Bank.Green covers more than 300 banks globally, including only two “ethical banks” in Canada:  Vancity, and Duca Credit Union. The website provides information for customers and encourages them to switch banks and divest from fossil fuels.

No new pipeline construction needed in Canada, and domestic fossil fuel consumption peaked in 2019

The key takeaway from a new flagship government report is that no new pipeline construction is needed in Canada, and  the current pipelines under construction – the TransMountain Expansion, Keystone XL, and Enbridge Line 3 Replacement- are sufficient to accommodate all future crude oil production.  The  new report, Canada’s Energy Future 2020: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2050, is the latest annual report by the Canada Energy Regulator CER- (formerly the National Energy Board) and discusses the future of all energy commodities under two scenarios – a Reference case and an Evolving Scenario, which includes a carbon price of $75 per tonne in 2040 and $125 per tonne in 2050.

Under the Evolving Scenario of increased policy intervention, Canada’s domestic fossil fuel consumption peaked in 2019 and by 2050, it will be 35% lower than the 2019 level. However, the report states that even under the Evolving Scenario, fossil fuel consumption is forecast to make up over 60% of Canada’s fuel mix in 2050.  It is worth noting that these CER reports have been criticized in the past for overestimating fossil fuel demand – for example, by the Pembina Institute in 2019, in “Why Canada’s Energy Future report leads us astray” . In 2020, Pembina calls for changes to the modelling assumptions for future reports, saying “the scenarios modelled in the report are still not aligned with commitments set out in the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. This model of Canada’s energy future is not consistent with the future that Canada has committed to in the Paris Agreement.” Further, it points out “Canada’s Energy Future 2020 report does not reflect the range of recent scenarios for global oil demand, such as those recently released by the International Energy Agency and BP, where demand is predicted to fall by 50 to 75 per cent over the next 20 to 30 years in order to achieve net-zero emissions.”

Other reactions to the CER report focus on the forecast of declining need for pipelines , summarized in  “No Future Need for Trans Mountain, Keystone XL Pipelines, Canadian Energy Regulator Report Shows”  (The Energy Mix, Nov. 25), and even echoed in the conservative Financial Post .  Followers of David Hughes will recognize this argument that he has made many times, most recently in Reassessment of Need for the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project , published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives at the end of October .

The press release and summary from the Canada Energy Regulator report is here, with data sets and interactive tables here  and an archive of past annual reports here.  Beyond fossil fuel projections, this year’s Report includes a discussion of the transition to a  Net-Zero Emissions energy system, focusing on  personal passenger transportation, oil sands production, and remote and northern communities. It also briefly notes the impact of  the Covid pandemic, stating  “Canadian end-use energy demand will fall by 6% in 2020 compared to 2019, the biggest annual drop since at least 1990. Energy to move people and goods will fall the most due to less travel and increased remote work and learning.” (A report  published by the World Meteorological Office on Nov. 23 provides preliminary estimates of a reduction in the annual global emission between 4.2% and 7.5% because of Covid).

 

 

 

Environmental justice in Canada: A labour union call to action, and evidence from the UN Special Rapporteur

  “We will not rest, we will not stop: Building for better in a post-pandemic recovery” appeared in the Labour Day issue of Our Times magazine, written by Yolanda McClean and Christopher Wilson, executive officers of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). Set in the context of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, the article states: “The calls to intensify the struggle against Canada’s police violence, economic apartheid and environmental racism are resounding.  …Anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and systemic racism extend beyond our political structures to our education and healthcare systems, to our corporations, workplaces, communities and, yes, to our labour movement.  (On this point, the authors refer to “Dear White Sisters & Brothers,” an Open Letter by unionist Carol Wall which appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Our Times).

Wilson and McClean call upon the labour movement, stating: “A labour vision for a post-pandemic recovery must confront structural racial inequalities and advocate for the inclusion of BIPOC communities — economically, politically and socially.”   As positive examples, the article cites the Ontario Federation of Labour, which joined with the CBTU in a joint statement in July, stating: “As allies, we must act now and support the call to defund the police”. Wilson and McClean also highlight the CBTU’s “Green Is Not White” Environmental Racism research project, and its associated webinar “What Can Unions Do to Stop Environmental Racism?” , produced by the CBTU, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, and York University’s Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW).   

UN Special Rapporteur reviews toxic chemicals in Canada and concludes: Environmental injustice persists in Canada

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Mr. Baskut Tuncak, officially visited Canada in May/June 2019, and presented his resulting Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in early September 2020. The report states clearly that “Environmental injustice persists in Canada. A significant proportion of the population in Canada experience racial discrimination, with Indigenous, and racialized people, the most widely considered to experience discriminatory treatment.” The report focused on the extractive industries (defined as “mining of metals and oil sands”) in Canada and abroad – noting that over 50% of the world’s multinational mining companies are based in Canada. The report also discusses oil and gas pipelines, and chemical industries (including pesticides in agriculture). After documenting many specific examples, the Rapporteur concludes with recommendations for legislative and regulatory changes.

Excerpted highlights from the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics :

“….Contamination from extractive industries, including the massive tailing ponds in Alberta, and the possibility of seeping into local water supplies, is of concern.

… despite compliance with the Fisheries Act, 76% of metal mines have confirmed effects on fish, fish habitat or both. Among these mines, 92% confirmed at least one effect of a magnitude that may be indicative of a higher risk to the environment.

….The health risks posed to Indigenous peoples by the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry are another example of concerns. Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan (Fort Chip) paint a disturbing picture of health impacts of the oil sands (i.e. tar sands) that were not properly investigated for years, despite increasing evidence of health impacts on local communities.

 … the situation of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia is profoundly unsettling. Deeply connected with their land, residents on the reservation invaded by industry as far back as the 1940s are now surrounded on three sides by over 60 industrial facilities that create the physiological and mental stress among community members …It is one of the most polluted places in Canada, dubbed “chemical valley.” ….   

…Workers are unquestionably vulnerable regarding their unique and elevated risks to chemical exposures. In Canada, occupational diseases and disabilities due to such exposures pose a major challenge to fulfilment of workers’ rights. Recent estimates show over 2.9 million workers are exposed to carcinogens and other hazardous substances at work, which is a gross underestimation.. ”  

Fewer jobs will be needed in Alberta’s oil sands according to Parkland report

parkland futureofalbertasoilsands_coverThe latest of several reports by the Parkland Institute and Corporate Mapping Project  was released on March 10:  The Future of Alberta’s Oil Sands Industry : More Production, Less Capital, Fewer Jobs .  Author Ian Hussey  argues that a managed decline of the industry is needed, and that it is now in its mature phase – with  53,119 jobs lost between 2014 through 2019.  With this maturity comes fewer construction projects, and technological change is driving down operational employment. Although most people are aware of the adoption of driverless trucks, Hussey also discusses  horizontal multi-well drilling pads; supervisory control and data acquisition, remote monitoring, and information technology and analytics; and replicated designs and modularization.   In sum,

“Despite the growth in production, fewer and fewer employees are needed. In 2019, overall productivity per employee in Canada’s oil and gas industry was 47% higher than in 2011, and productivity in the oil sands was 72% higher in 2019 than 2011. This indicates that the jobs that have been lost in recent years are likely not coming back. Production is at an all-time high and has increased 23% since 2014, while jobs have declined by 23% since 2014.”

The report also profiles the “ Big Five” oil and gas companies operating in Alberta:  Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Imperial Oil, Cenovus Energy, and Husky Energy – providing statistics on their production, reserves,  profits and shareholder returns, and capital spending.