Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis

Goal: $100k

Ever since the federal government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, people have wondered how the Trudeau Liberals would balance the need to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions against the oil industry’s voracious appetite for growth and expansion. Now, it seems, we have our answer. As part of his party’s official platform, Justin Trudeau is proposing a cap on emissions from the oil and gas industry, one that will begin to ratchet down in 2025.

This surely won’t sit well with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), which released its own platform — a wish list, really — a few days earlier. Its members still seem to believe we live in a world where new oil pipelines are both economically and environmentally plausible, and where the government’s most important job is to signal its virtues more aggressively.

The platform’s recommendations include “a visible commitment to work with industry to provide clarity and certainty to the investment community by promoting Canada’s leadership in environment, social and governance (ESG) performance” and efforts to “advance an … (ESG) strategy promoting Canada as an oil and natural gas supplier of choice among global markets.”

This is, of course, exactly the strategy that’s been pursued by the government of Alberta for the last two years with its “war room,” one that has served up a litany of humiliating defeats and embarrassments. The federal government would surely do a better job, if only because it would be impossible to do worse, but that’s a task that belongs squarely to the industry and the companies in it.

Stranger still is the suggestion that Canada should, or even could, export its regulatory regime to the rest of the world.

“If the world developed all of their natural gas and oil the Canadian way,” CAPP tweeted, “global oil and gas production emissions would drop by nearly a quarter.” The “Canadian way,” in this context, refers to our regulations around the flaring and venting of natural gas, which is a byproduct of oil development in most parts of the world. And yes, if countries like Russia, Iraq, and Iran regulated their industries as tightly as Canada does, we’d see some very meaningful reductions.

This is the reddest of red herrings, as well as being a kissing cousin of the Ethical Oil argument, since it ignores the important fact that we can’t export our regulations to other countries. We can and do export our oil, though, and that’s where the rub lies. After all, our oil is fundamentally different from the deposits in places like Texas or Siberia, and it requires different technologies and processes to extract and upgrade it. And while those are comparatively light on the need for flaring, they produce things like tailings ponds — which already contain 1.4 trillion litres of toxic fluids that will cost anywhere between $30 billion and $130 billion to clean up.

Oh, and those greenhouse gas emissions? Despite the progress Canada’s oil and gas industry has made in reducing flaring, the same 2018 paper that CAPP is drawing its “Canadian way” argument from ranked Canada’s average oil output as the fourth most-intensive in the world, with only Algeria, Venezuela, and Cameroon ranking worse. “Of the 34 Canadian oilsands operations measured in this study, led by Stanford University researchers, none fell below the global midpoint for emissions,” Maclean’s magazine’s Jason Markusoff wrote in 2019. “Ten were double that mark; five of those were triple or higher.”

But maybe the most fanciful part of CAPP’s platform is its belief that Canada should ramp up its LNG exports to Asia and actually get credit for the emissions reductions associated with the switch from coal to natural gas. “Through global offset credits, Canada could still achieve its commitments under the Paris Agreement, instead of implementing costly measures that inefficiently focus on domestic (globally insignificant) emissions reduction,” the platform reads.

The most fanciful part of the #CAPP platform is its belief Canada should ramp up its LNG exports to Asia and actually get credit for the emissions reductions associated with the switch from coal to natural gas, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #elxn44

Set aside, for the moment, the fact that the domestic emissions reductions are being made using carbon taxes, the most efficient way possible, and ignore the familiar argument that Canada’s emissions aren’t “significant” enough to merit attention. The core of the idea — that increasing our fossil fuel exports would allow us to avoid having to make emission reductions here at home — says everything you’d need to know about how seriously CAPP and its members really take climate change.

As the Ecofiscal Commission’s Jason Dion wrote back in 2019 for Policy Options, “Countries don’t get credit toward their emissions reduction targets for low-carbon exports because the global GHG accounting system doesn’t work that way.”

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which is cited by CAPP, lays out the ways in which countries can co-operate voluntarily to reduce emissions and meet their targets, and it includes something called “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes,” or ITMOs.

But that doesn’t mean Canada can avoid reducing emissions at home by exporting more LNG to China or India. “If the government of Canada wanted to turn an LNG sale into an ITMO,” Dion wrote, “it would have to enter into negotiation with the importing country’s government. But there’s a problem: it’s not clear what Canada could offer in such a negotiation. Canada would be asking for a benefit (in the form of a credit toward its GHG reduction target) in exchange for something that the foreign business is already paying the market rate for.”

There are, in other words, no free lunches left for us here. Canada cannot continue to grow its oil and gas industry and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, much less meet the ambitious targets we’ve set for the future. If organizations like CAPP want to be a part of the future, they’re going to have to stop trying to live in the past.

Keep reading

CAPP is chief obstructionist to climate action in Canada. A poison in the body politic.
CAPP does not merely expect the federal govt to "signal its virtues more aggressively", i.e., roll out PR, provide political cover for the industry's malfeasance, and promote its products. No, govt's commitment to the oil & gas industry goes far deeper. The industry expects Ottawa to do whatever it takes to keep it on life-support for decades:
Fork over endless subsidies. Buy out pipeline companies (Trans Mtn) and push new export projects to completion, ignoring local concerns and overriding protests. Seek out new market opportunities. Stick taxpayers with clean-up bills — orphan wells are just the start. Grossly under-report oil & gas emissions. Placate the public with aspirational net-zero targets decades out into the future (2050) with no roadmap to meet them and little accountability. Fund billion dollar investments in costly, inefficient, unviable, or unproven technologies like carbon capture and SMRs (for oilsands industry) to reduce its sky-high emissions.
So far the Liberals seem compliant.

"promoting Canada’s leadership in environment, social and governance (ESG) performance"
By all means.
CAPP opposes UNDRIP: First Nations' right of free, prior, and informed consent on the frontlines of development. I.e., the right to say NO.
"Last year, CAPP also lobbied the federal government to delay implementation of the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), a landmark international document that protects the Indigenous right to self-government and numerous human rights, including a measure that requires Indigenous consent for resource development projects." (National Observer)
CAPP supports reconciliation with First Nations as long as they support pipelines.

Pamela D. Palmater, Mi'kmaw lawyer: "While politicians make flowery speeches about reconciliation and respecting our rights, when it comes to wanting our lands for development or extraction, they will send in heavily armed RCMP officers or the military to take what they want."
Think B.C.'s Coastal Gaslink, the RCMP, and blockades by members of the Wet'suwet'en.
Or Enbridge and Line 3 in Minnesota:
"Line 3 is cultural genocide at the hands of Enbridge, police and big banks"

Canada's Chemical Valley around Sarnia, ON — "one of Canada's pollution hot spots, lined with chemical plants, manufacturing plants, and refineries" — harms the First Nations community on its doorsteps.

Regulators and review panels routinely approve unsustainable projects. E.g., Teck Resources' Frontier oilsands mine:
"Oilsands mine in public interest despite 'significant adverse' effects, panel says" (CP, Jul 25, 2019)
"A federal-provincial panel says a proposed northeastern Alberta oilsands mine would be in the public interest, even though it would LIKELY SIGNIFICANTLY HARM THE ENVIRONMENT AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLE."

When the oilsands industry collapses, what will FN be left with? No jobs, a contaminated landscape bereft of wildlife, and chronic illness. Cultural destruction. Family members crippled by illness or six feet under. A greater and more lasting poverty than they could have ever envisioned in their worst nightmares.

Canada also ranks high on ESG performance in the asbestos and tobacco industries.

Article: "'If the world developed all of their natural gas and oil the Canadian way,' CAPP tweeted, 'global oil and gas production emissions would drop by nearly a quarter.' … And yes, if countries like Russia, Iraq, and Iran regulated their industries as tightly as Canada does, we’d see some very meaningful reductions."

Highly debatable. As numerous studies based on actual air measurements attest, Canada's oil & gas industry grossly under-estimates its emissions — of all types. The industry's emission stats are fiction.
"Oilsands CO2 emissions may be far higher than companies report, scientists say"
"Measured Canadian oil sands CO2 emissions are higher than estimates made using internationally recommended methods" (Nature Communications, 23 April 2019)
"The results indicate that CO2 emission intensities for OS facilities are 13–123% larger than those estimated using publically available data. This leads to 64% higher annual GHG emissions from surface mining operations, and 30% higher overall OS GHG emissions (17 Mt) compared to that reported by industry."
Methane, VOC, and SOA emissions as measured by airborne instruments are far higher than the oil & gas industry's reported estimates. Every one of these studies reports actual emissions higher than reported.
"Methane emissions from oil and gas operations around Red Deer, Alta., in November, 2016, were 15 times higher than the levels that they reported to the provincial govt, says a study in the journal, Elementa."
"New research suggests industry and govt are badly underestimating AB's emissions of one of the most potent GHGs.
"AB could be underestimating releases of methane by as much as 50%.
"Currently, industry is only required to report how much methane is released during flaring and venting. Fugitive emissions from equipment such as leaky valves have only been estimated.
"But fugitive emissions —currently unregulated — account for 94% of released methane."
'If we thought it was bad, it's worse:' Alberta methane releases underestimated" (CBC, Oct 17, 2017)
Chan et al., "Eight-Year Estimates of Methane Emissions from Oil and Gas Operations in Western Canada Are Nearly Twice Those Reported in Inventories", Environ. Sci. Technol., Nov 10, 2020
"Canada's methane emissions are likely undercounted, and that makes them harder to cut" (CBC, Apr 15, 2021)

Article: "But maybe the most fanciful part of CAPP’s platform is its belief that Canada should ramp up its LNG exports to Asia and actually get credit for the emissions reductions associated with the switch from coal to natural gas."
If Canada wants credit for replacing coal with LNG, it must also take responsibility for higher emissions when …
- LNG exports displace renewables;
- AB and BC coal exports displace renewables;
- petcoke exports from AB oilsands displace coal;
- AB's carbon-intensive dilbit exports displace less carbon-intensive crudes.
Suncor and U.S. refineries export petcoke from AB oilsands to developing nations as a cheap, lethal substitute for coal. Darkening skies and destroying lives.
Since Suncor exports its surplus petcoke overseas, those emissions will simply occur elsewhere, in places with even fewer pollution controls. To the extent that cheap, dirty petcoke displaces coal in Asia, global GHG emissions will increase.
Cheap LNG is as likely to displace renewables in Asia as it is to displace coal.
Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, but it's no improvement on the climate front if fugitive emissions exceed a low threshold. As in Canada and the U.S..
Canada's oil & gas industry grossly under-reports its emissions of all types — further undermining the argument for LNG.
A 2014 study in Nature shows that "market-driven increases in global supplies of unconventional natural gas do not discernibly reduce the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions or climate forcing."
"Limited impact on decadal-scale climate change from increased use of natural gas" (Nature, 23 Oct 2014)
"There is no evidence that LNG [from Canada] will replace coal in Asia. … LNG will also likely displace nuclear power, renewables, and natural gas from other sources in many importing countries. There are many locations where LNG consumption would be additional to coal consumption, instead of replacing it. Importantly, GHG emissions from fracking, transport, liquefaction, and regasification significantly reduce LNG’s GHG benefits over coal.
"Unjustified adverse greenhouse gas impacts of the Pacific Northwest LNG proposal"
"LNG facility will prolong China's reliance on fossil fuels, Mark Z. Jacobson says" (National Observer, Oct 18th 2018)
"'Clean' natural gas is actually the new coal, report says" (CBC, July 2, 2019)
"New studies have shown there is significantly more fugitive gas than studies showed 5 years ago, and the gas is also a bigger contributor to climate change than was understood."
"Green Myths Canada’s LNG Sales Force Tells the World" (The Tyee, 2020/01/23)
"No, methane’s no fix for global coal-fired energy. Here’s why."
"Global boom in natural gas is undermining climate change action: report" (CP, July 2, 2019)
"Whether natural gas has lower life cycle GHG emissions than coal and oil depends on the assumed leakage rate, the global warming potential of methane over different time frames, the energy conversion efficiency, and other factors. One recent study found that methane losses must be kept below 3.2% for natural gas power plants to have lower life cycle emissions than new coal plants over short time frames of 20 years or fewer."
"Natural gas, long promoted as a "clean" alternative to other fossil fuels, may not be so clean after all. That’s because its main ingredient, the potent greenhouse gas methane, has been leaking from oil and gas facilities at far higher rates than governmental regulators claim. A new study finds that in the United States, such leaks have nearly doubled the climate impact of natural gas, causing warming on par with carbon dioxide-emitting coal plants for two decades.
"Natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal in the short term" (American Association for the Advancement of Science, Jun. 21, 2018)

The finish of the article seems to me to miss the point. We need organizations like CAPP to NOT be part of the future. I don't want them to reform and get a clue, I want them to die. The only way they should be able to save their profits is by taking their big money reserves and ploughing them into renewables and making money from that instead of from oil or gas. At which point they wouldn't be the "Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers" but the "Canadian Association of Wind and Solar Energy Producers".