A new coalition of environmental, business and labour groups wants Albertans to know: methane is so much more than just cow farts.

morethanjustcowfarts.ca is a new website backed by 10 groups hoping to convince the Alberta government that easy solutions for strong methane restrictions are available, and to educate the public about the dangers of unregulated methane gas.

The groups released an open letter to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on Aug. 1, calling on the NDP premier to “bring in world-leading methane regulations designed for Alberta’s needs.”

“Methane suffers from the fact that people just don’t know about it,” said Duncan Kinney, the executive director of Progress Alberta, one of the groups which put their name to the letter.

“It gets cast as cow farts or cow burps. It gets dismissed, despite the fact that it’s an extremely large part of Alberta’s carbon dioxide budget.”

The coalition of environmental groups is challenging a powerful lobbying push against tough rules.

For years, Canada's main oil and gas lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, has been actively lobbying to ease up and delay rules to crack down on their pollution, arguing that it could harm their profits.

The new campaign is urging the government to get tougher.

Dairy cows are shown in a barn on a farm in Eastern Ontario on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.
Methane emissions gets cast as cow farts or burps, says Progress Alberta, but the most prevalent source is the fossil fuel sector at 42 per cent of total methane emissions, according to federal government statistics. Photo by The Canadian Press

Think fossil fuels, not just cows

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that's 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period, a process that contributes to dangerous climate change.

That means reducing methane, which is 14 per cent of Canada's total emissions and 11 per cent of Alberta's total emissions, is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways of reducing the country’s climate pollution.

In Canada, the most prevalent source of the colourless, odorless gas is the fossil fuel sector, responsible for 42 per cent of total methane emissions, according to federal government statistics.

Meanwhile, the agriculture sector represents 28 per cent of total methane emissions, and less than half of that slice is due to “enteric fermentation,” or the breakdown of food in a cow’s digestive process. (The other large slice in agriculture is the use of fertilizers.)

Both the Notley government and the federal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have put methane regulations into their official plans to tackle climate change.

In May, the federal government released their draft regulations for methane emissions. Alberta is working on a draft plan of its own, and Notley has said the province will reveal them this fall.

Alberta has committed to cutting emissions 45 percent from 2014 levels by 2025, while Ottawa wants to see a slightly different target, a 40 to 45 per cent reduction from 2012 levels by 2025.

The Alberta Energy Regulator’s 2016-17 annual report, released this spring, noted that draft regulatory development was already 60 per cent complete. Asked for an updated completion rate, AER spokeswoman Shelley Ingram said "nearly complete."

The regulator is also aiming for a fall deadline for the draft rules, and "final requirements are expected to be published next year."

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier reveal details of a plan to slash carbon pollution in Ottawa on July 18, 2017. McKenna released draft federal methane rules in May. Photo by Alex Tétreault.

Don't water down Alberta rules, groups warn

The open letter calls on Notley to use the draft federal regulations “as a floor and not a ceiling.” The groups behind the letter are worried that Alberta's proposed rules will be a watered-down version of the federal rules.

“We would look to a province like Alberta to treat it as a minimum and to try and exceed it,” said Jamie Kirkpatrick, program manager for the labour-environmental alliance Blue Green Canada.

In the oil and gas industry, methane comes from both deliberate and accidental equipment leaks. Some pressurized equipment is specifically designed to release methane into the atmosphere, while gas is also released by accident due to leaking or malfunctioning.

Companies can deliberately release excess gas into the air, a process called venting, or burn it off in a process called flaring, as an easy way of getting rid of the product.

The proposed federal rules allow, among other things, for facilities to flare off the gas, for leak inspection to cease during the winter, and for venting requirements and compressor repairs to only apply to facilities over a certain threshold of emissions per year or per minute.

The group behind the open letter believes no methane gas should be allowed to leak at any point.

“There is an emerging consensus that continuing to allow methane to leak and vent is no longer an acceptable cost of doing business,” the open letter reads.

It is believed that methane emissions at oil and gas facilities in Alberta are higher than reported by as much as 60 per cent over Canada's official estimates, according to an Environmental Defence report released this spring.

"On average, there is almost one piece of equipment leaking or venting methane at each well, [but] industry is not currently required to look for methane leaks to see if they have a problem," the report stated.

Kirkpatrick said the group believes more stringent rules are relatively easy to achieve. “In terms of climate action, it’s a low-hanging fruit,” he said. “We’re talking, in a lot of cases, about tightening valves and upgrading equipment. We’re not saying transformative change in the industry is required.”

The AER said it would not answer any questions related to "comparisons between federal and provincial requirements." Those questions should be directed to the government of Alberta, said Ingram.

National Observer's questions to Notley's office were forwarded to Alberta's environment minister, Shannon Phillips.

Brent Wittmeier, press secretary for Phillips, said in addition to its provincial methane reduction target, Alberta is cutting methane "in other ways, including output-based allocations and targeted exemptions." Emissions Reductions Alberta announced $29.5 million in provincial grants to 12 projects "to monitor, detect and reduce methane emissions," he noted.

The province has been working with industry "to foster innovation while protecting the long-term competitiveness of the oil and gas industry," said Wittmeier.

Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray
A Nexen oil sands facility near Fort McMurray, Alta. The industry group Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has called on the Alberta government for an "ability to adjust" how stringent any methane gas leak detection and repair would be. File photo

CAPP wants 'ability to adjust' leak rules

Elisabeth Besson, a spokeswoman for the industry lobby group, CAPP, told National Observer in an email that the association opposes what she described as "onerous" rules proposed by the federal government. She said these would require companies to conduct extensive inspections to detect leaks.

"The requirements to achieve approval are onerous and do not enable innovative technology based solutions to identify anomalous leaks," she told National Observer.

Instead, CAPP is lobbying the government to ease up these rules to factor in unproven technologies. Besson described this approach as a "performance-based" system.

"Industry is actively working with governments to fund and investigate promising technologies that will remotely detect emissions on a regular basis and in doing so, along with current screening work practices, will alleviate the need for multiple comprehensive surveys per year," she said.

This July, CAPP released a new policy paper that calls for an "ability to adjust" how stringent any methane leak detection and repair would be, "based on performance, new research and technology."

That's because while CAPP believes certain facilities have fewer leaks than others, said Besson, "the proposed federal regulations do not take advantage of the opportunity to recognize strong ongoing individual facility performance."

This isn't the first time CAPP has found issues with proposed methane regulations.

When the draft federal rules were being drawn up last year, CAPP called for a delay in the proposed timeline for implementation, arguing they would impose an administrative and cost burden.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna's office agreed the oilpatch needed more time to make changes and budget needed capital, and when the proposed rules were revealed this May, they did contain delayed timelines.

Duncan Kenyon, priority director for responsible fossil fuels at the Pembina Institute, another group that signed the open letter, said the industry was "blowing hot air" on the subject when it comes to costs. He argued they would be a "drop in the bucket" for an industry with such a large overall budget.

Besson said CAPP agrees with the federal government's target for methane cuts, and wants to see an approach to methane emissions reduction that "stimulates innovation in a vibrant and competitive oil and natural gas sector."

But she also raised concerns about "the potential impact on competitiveness that the methane regulations may pose as the divide between Canada and the United States continues to grow."

Looser climate policies in fossil fuel-heavy United States jurisdictions, said Besson, such as Texas or North Dakota, is creating "regulatory uncertainty and represents an addition to the cumulative cost burden." Increasing Canada-U.S. competition for market share is "eroding investor confidence in the Canadian oil and natural gas industry."

A group of Chinese lawyers are suing the governments of Beijing and its surrounding areas for not doing enough to get rid of the smog
Smog blankets Beijing earlier this year. Methane comes bundled with volatile organic compounds, key components in the generation of smog and the associated reduction in air quality. Photo by The Associated Press

Methane a public health concern, argues physicians group

But Kenyon said the public also doesn't fully understand the “co-benefits” of limiting methane gas, which comes with volatile organic compounds that worsen air quality and contribute to smog.

Although some U.S. jurisdictions may appear more cost-competitive to Canadian industry, others have moved long ago to enforce strict methane regulations.

One of those is Colorado, which became the first U.S. jurisdiction to directly control methane in 2014.

Audrey Mascarenhas, chief executive officer of Questor Technology, another open letter co-signer, says she's seen success in that state using her firm's technology to eliminate methane gas at the source by incinerating it in closed containers.

New rules for Alberta would have “a big impact not only on climate change but on air quality,” she said.

Joe Vipond, a board member for another co-signatory, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, also said the organization understands that climate change is a health issue, perhaps the most important public health concern.

He pointed to the Canadian Public Health Association’s 2015 discussion paper on the ecological determinants of health, which cited international research showing very high confidence in a greater risk of injury, disease and death due to climate change-driven heat waves and wildfires.

“We feel very strongly that we need to act on this, and methane is a very important and financially reasonable step for Alberta to be taking,” said Vipond.

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Vipond, Kenyon, Kinney...really?!?! These fellas won't change one molecule of methane emissions in the province and I can say that with confidence, as I've dealt with two of them. Vipond stood at the podium with Notley, in scrubs, with a stethoscope around his neck no less, to support a provincial climate plan that calls for a massive increase in fracked natural gas production, to replace 70% or more of the coal fired electricity in the province. More disturbingly, the CLP Vipond supported, refers to fracked natural gas as "clean", with "limited adverse impacts." Ask for his medical opinion on the public health impacts of fracking and this doctor will ignore you- he will get rather testy about being a "shill" for the oil and gas industry.

See here: https://susanonthesoapbox.com/2016/09/19/another-fine-mess-thanks-stevie/

After submitting comments to her blog, Susan Wright blocked me, as has Vipond. My subsequent email to him is below, he did not reply, never has. His concern for our public health in the matter, appears staged.

Vipond didn't even add his signature to this:

Formation gases are released during all stages of exploration, production and processing of oil and gas operations. This includes the mentioned venting and flaring and incineration, but also during drilling, fracturing, servicing, well testing, surface casing vent flows, gas migration, (nearly 7% of all wells in Alberta are leaking) transmissions losses, fugitive emissions, compressor station fuel use, from crude oil and crude bitumen batteries, gas gathering systems, incidents of pipeline or facility releases and from gas plants.

Indeed these emission are grossly underreported. Around our home, well 14-15 vented formation gases for almost 5 years, without regulatory license to do so. Well 6-22 has SCVF, which was unreported and untested for over 3 years. Well 1-20, also vented, but without reporting the emissions to Petrinex, the provincial registry. Well 5-15 released millions of litres of sour gas each month, and burned even more in the compressor station, at 300ppm, above the licensed ppm of 200ppm. The company also falsified public notices, so that we were unaware of these hazardous and health altering emissions by our home. Well 2-16 has gas migration, and despite being notified, nothing has been done to remediate this high risk leakage, in over two years. This is a small sampling of endemic (and validated) violations, in just a few wells by our home. Imagine the non-compliances province wide.

Technologies exist today for implementation on wells sites and facilities to drastically reduce methane emissions. In line testing of well sites, compressed air systems for production, conservation of vented gases, and pneumatic controls. ERA is wasting funding on pet projects and are too afraid to make the necessary regulatory changes to mitigate formation gas pollution. Currently, any well site is permitted to release 500-900 m3 per day of vented gases and conservation is only required if the company has to pay $55,000 or less, to tie in a well site to local transmission systems. How many companies fudge ticking this little box, to save money? It costs so much less to use local air-sheds as waste dumps.

Mr. Vipond,

No such "shill" accusation was made, therefore, no evidence was required, perhaps read the comment again. If you recall, I have tried to engage you on these matters previously, numerous times, on several Alberta Coal Phase out postings as well as your own facebook profile.

The Op-Ed you authored was printed before the CLP was released. In the CLP fracced natural gas is referred to as "clean" with "limited adverse impacts" yet you have stood in support (literally and publicly) of the CLP, which entails the objective to replace coal fired electricity, largely with fracced gas.

In your op-ed you state..."We need a plan." The plan that you have then come to champion is in fact, a "dash to gas". To further, you do not address the wide and varying range of health implications with respect to unconventional gas extraction (aka hydraulic fracturing) as every new gas well bore in Alberta will be fracced (and has been since about 2006). PM2.5 and C02 are but a fraction of the priority pollutants, hazardous compounds, toxic wastes and specific gases that are problematic and health altering when addressing the impacts of fraccing on local residents, communities and the environment as a whole.

I have challenged you as a medical professional to be ethical, comprehensive and transparent on all the science relating to fracced oil and gas extraction, so that Albertans know that phasing out coal and replacing it with fracced gas, will be exponentially worse for their health. Where is the science to support the NDP claiming fracced gas is clean? To date, they have not been able to provide it and refuse to acknowledge the very large and growing body of evidence that is contrary to the CLP claims.

Would you care for the links to the hundreds of peer reviewed documents on the impacts of fraccing, or are you aware of them, and have chosen to support the NDP at the podium in spite of all the scientific evidence? This is not an issue for opinions, but facts. What is your professional knowledge on the health impacts to Albertans from unconventional resource extraction?



Think politicians, not just cows.
So much more methane coming out of the BS in Ottawa than Canada's entire bovine population combined.

It is well past time that the oil and gas industry was required to take responsibility for not only the climate-changeing effects of methane but the huge health impacts of the accompanying emissions. These can include toluene, a potent neurotoxin and benzene, a known carcinogen, along with the many other volatile organic compounds and unknown chemical compounds from frack fluid which can accompany methane in the venting, leaking and flaring of natural gas. No delay is acceptable, and neither is any "altering" of the requirements.

I believe it is essential to quote the response from the Pembina Institute to the release of draft federal methane regulations:

CALGARY — Duncan Kenyon, policy director at the Pembina Institute, made the following statement in response to the Government of Canada’s release of its draft oil and gas methane regulations:

“We’re pleased to see the Government of Canada move forward with national rules to cut oil and gas methane pollution by 45 per cent by 2025. These regulations are cost-effective and are vital to achieve the goals articulated in the recently released pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.

“Methane represents 15 per cent of Canada’s total carbon emissions, half of which are from the energy sector. As Canada implements policies to achieve its climate target, it’s essential those emissions are reigned in. It’s in the government’s best interest to ensure regulations for new and existing oil and gas methane sources are in place promptly— and that strong safeguards to ensure all provinces implement equivalent rules are established.

“Methane rules don’t put the Canadian oil and gas sector at risk: in fact, they are essential to its long-term carbon competitiveness. Canada is only catching up to U.S. states, like California, Colorado, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, that already have regulations for new and existing sources of methane pollution.

“These regulations are the only element of the pan-Canadian plan specifically aimed at reducing methane in the oil and gas industry. All current carbon pricing approaches in the country exclude this source of greenhouse gas pollution.

“The Government of Canada’s proposed approach is strong, but today’s proposal could still be improved in a few important ways. In the consultation period ahead, we look forward to making the case for a strengthened commitment to leak detection and repair, and faster implementation timelines. Governments, industry and other stakeholders need to keep their eye on the prize: reducing methane emissions to achieve our climate goals as swiftly and cost-effectively as possible.”

I emphasize one of the Pembina statements above, "All current carbon pricing approaches in the country exclude this source of greenhouse pollution." Carbon pricing is one of the chief ways to add a polluting cost to fossil fuels, making renewable clean energies more competitive relative to methane fuels.