Unregulated Tar Sands/Oil Sands Emissions May Undercut Canada’s Methane Reductions
Although Canada can still meet its 2025 deadline to reduce methane releases from conventional oil and gas production by 40 to 45%, those gains could be wiped out by methane increases in tar sands/oil sands operations that aren’t subject to regulation, a new report concludes.
The study, led by Carleton University engineering professor Matthew Johnson, compared methane reduction plans developed by the federal and Alberta governments and weighed both systems against Ottawa’s 2025 pledge, CBC reports. Johnson determined that the federal approach would be more effective than the provincial one, but it isn’t clear that either will cut methane far enough, fast enough to hit the target.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
Citing Environment and Climate Change Canada, CBC adds that methane is 25 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over its entire lifespan in the atmosphere. But it’s 84 times more potent over the 20-year period when it’s most active, and when humanity will be hardest-pressed to bring about deep emission reductions.
The 40 to 45% reduction target dates back to a tripartite agreement in 2016 between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, then-U.S. President Barack Obama, and Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto that was subsequently incorporated in the pan-Canadian climate plan. Ottawa later delayed implementation of the plan from 2017 to 2020.
Now, Johnson says the 2025 target is still achievable. But no one has come up with a perfect path to get it done.
“Absolutely that kind of methane reduction is achievable,” he told CBC. “We would say that the federal government will just meet that target,” just barely squeaking in with a reduction of 40%, while Alberta’s rule would produce a 35% reduction.
“Are there things in here you could do to improve both regulations?” he asked. “Hundred per cent. Neither regulation is perfect.”
CBC says the federal and Alberta governments are in the midst of negotiating which set of regulations will apply to the province. “Under the law, Alberta’s regulations would apply if they are found to be as or more effective than the federal regulations. The negotiations are meant to determine if the provincial regulations are equivalent to the federal ones.”
But both approaches leave a big, climate-busting elephant in the room. CBC says the regulations are “aimed at reducing leaks of methane from conventional oil and gas facilities, through a swath of new requirements that target everything from how the facilities are run, how often they are inspected, the equipment they use, and how methane leaks are detected.” But they “don’t apply to a significant part of that industry—Alberta’s oilsands mines. The oilsands are a completely different mining operation than upstream oil and gas facilities, and account for about 19% of Alberta’s methane emissions. The current regulations are focused on the other sources of emissions, for which a clearer path to reduction exists.”
Johnson’s study found that methane releases from conventional oil and gas operations declined between 2012 and 2018, even without regulation, while tar sands/oil sands emissions increased. “If emissions from the oilsands keep rising, it could cancel out any reductions from the new methane regulations,” CBC says.
“So which trend wins?” Johnson asked. “If that oilsands trend increases faster than any additional non-regulation reductions at the top, then those targets are in jeopardy.”