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Brooks: Canada Must Plan for Oil and Gas Exit Rather Than ‘Urging Companies Onward’

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Canada urgently needs an exit strategy from oil and gas, rather than allowing the industry and its massive environmental liabilities to continue growing, Environmental Defence Programs Director Keith Brooks argues in a Globe and Mail opinion piece.

Rather than fuelling our way to a low-carbon economy, further expansion of the oil and gas sector is setting up Canadians in general and Albertans specifically to be left holding the bag,” Brooks writes. “Instead of propping up the industry though massive subsidies and tax breaks, we need to talk about how we can prevent that—and that means winding it down.

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Brooks opens with a litany of the environmental and economic costs that oil and gas development leaves behind, from abandoned wells [2] to sour gas leakage, oil spills and toxic tar sands/oil sands tailings ponds to the fossils’ outsized carbon footprint.

All told, the liabilities are estimated at up to C$260 billion [3]—almost six times Alberta’s current debt, 300 times what Alberta received in oil and gas royalties in 2016, and more than 160 times the amount the industry has set aside for cleaning it up,” he states.

“Even in the best of times, there were questions about whether abandoned wells would be cleaned up,” Brooks notes. “Now, as the world confronts climate change, demand for oil and gas will likely plunge, and prices have, too. More than ever, companies are looking for ways to evade their liabilities.

Yet agencies like the Alberta Energy Regulator respond with weak regulations, and the industry pushes for more expansion, even though “building more infrastructure only puts the economy at greater risk” as the global community responds to climate change. “While we won’t stop using oil and gas today, it is economically illogical to increase production of fuels and bankroll expensive long-term assets, such as pipelines and mines, if the future doesn’t include them,” he states.

The scientific consensus is that the world needs to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change,” Brooks notes. “This leaves no choice but to wind down Canada’s oil and gas industry. And unless we start planning for this now, workers and communities will be left out of the transition to a low-carbon future.”

But “instead, Canada is so beholden to the oil and gas sector that rather than making these companies actually set aside money for cleanup, or even draft credible plans for how they could clean up the mess, they are urging them onward.