As Canada curbs methane emissions, new measurements show problem bigger than thought
Reported greenhouse gas emissions from Canada’s oilpatch have more than doubled in the year’s first half as changes to how they are measured revealed a more extensive picture of environmental damage, previously unreported industry data show.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, which has set a goal of making Canada carbon-neutral by 2050, launched a national program on Jan. 1 to better measure and reduce methane emissions.
Some provinces, including Alberta, implemented their own regulations to achieve the same goal, and Ottawa deemed those regulations equivalent with federal standards.
Alberta aims to slash methane emissions by 45% by 2025 from 2014 levels.
Canada’s program, which its oil industry says is the strictest approach to methane emissions in the world, contrasts with the United States, where the Trump administration is rolling back methane curbs. Vented emissions, mainly methane, climbed to 175 million cubic metres of vented gas in the first half from 79 million a year earlier, according to Petrinex, an industry-government partnership that collects data about the sector. Methane, the main component of natural gas used to heat homes and power factories, is responsible for one-quarter of human-caused global warming, largely from oil and gas facilities, according to Canada’s environment ministry.
Canada’s oil industry has long faced pressure from international investors distancing themselves from its stained environmental reputation.
An Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) official last month said that changes to flaring and venting definitions would lead to higher reported emissions.
While pandemic-induced oil production cuts have curbed emissions, energy producers were also forced to cut spending to survive, including some plans to reduce venting and leaks of methane into the environment, according to interviews with six clean technology providers.
“The fact that we’re spending less on technology and adoption means those goals and targets are meaningless,” said Audrey Mascarenhas, Chief Executive of Questor Technology Inc (QST.V).
“We don’t have a clear line of how step by step we’re going to get there.”
Aborted progress this year would be costly, although it is too soon to say mitigation efforts will miss the 2025 goal, said Terry Abel, a CAPP executive vice-president.
“If you miss a year, it just backloads what you need to do,” Abel said. “We always expected that if the regulations don’t achieve that (desired) outcome, the regulations will perhaps become even more stringent.”
Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said efforts to reduce oilpatch methane emissions are on track, despite delays in government loans to help the industry achieve reductions.
“My expectation is that we’re going to see the kinds of reductions that we have forecast,” Wilkinson said, adding the federal loans will be in place “ideally in weeks.”
Senior executives from major producers Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) (CNQ.TO) and Cenovus Energy (CVE.TO) said they have not scaled back plans.
“The bigger operators are going to be at or ahead of schedule, so I don’t think it will be that big a deal” if smaller players scale back, CNRL President Tim McKay told Reuters.
The AER is still developing a surveillance program to ensure methane compliance, spokesman Shawn Roth said.