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Alberta’s oil and gas war room is accusing former federal environment minister Catherine McKenna of trying to mislead the public after she called the sector out on greenwashing Monday.

In an op-ed published in the Globe and Mail, McKenna — who serves as the UN’s greenwashing expert — said Canadian oilsands companies are greenwashing themselves and responsible public policy must address increasing emissions from the sector.

“Here in Canada, oil and gas companies, the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, need to step up and take meaningful climate action now,” wrote McKenna, chair of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Commitments of Non-State Entities. “But instead, we have the Pathways Alliance — which represents major oilsands companies — taking out full-page newspaper advertisements claiming they are on their way to net zero despite all evidence to the contrary.”

The Pathways Alliance is a group of six companies (Canadian Natural, Cenovus Energy, ConocoPhillips Canada, Imperial, MEG and Suncor Energy) representing the majority of oilsands production and specifically is promising to hit net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“We cannot allow companies to claim they are on the path to net zero if they are investing in new fossil-fuel infrastructure, if their absolute emissions are not decreasing, if they are only reporting on part of their emissions or if they are lobbying to undermine climate policy,” she wrote.

The oil and gas sector “will make or break Canada’s climate commitments,” she added. “But instead of oil and gas companies using their massive profits to invest at scale in clean energy, they are returning their profits to shareholders while lobbying for more taxpayer subsidies — at the same time as regular Canadians are feeling the squeeze from high fuel prices.”

Oilsands companies are flush with cash, with 2022 representing a record-breaking year for profits for fossil fuel companies around the world. Among the Pathways Alliance members that have published their financial results, Imperial Oil made $7.3 billion for parent company ExxonMobil, Suncor posted profits of $9 billion on the year, and Cenovus finished the year with $6.4 billion.

The Canadian Energy Centre (CEC), commonly called the War Room, is an Alberta Crown corporation tasked with promoting the province’s fossil fuel industry. In a thread on Twitter, the CEC said McKenna’s op-ed “questioning Canada's oil and gas industry's commitment to emission reduction is an attempt to mislead Canadians.”

The CEC’s counter to McKenna’s argument centred on the Pathways Alliance’s plans to use speculative carbon capture technology to capture emissions that come from extracting oil and gas. However, carbon capture cannot be widely used to capture planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions when the fuel is burned, like in the engine of a car. In fact, carbon capture is aimed at only capturing approximately 20 per cent of emissions from oil and gas over the fuel’s full life cycle.

In a recent op-ed, Catherine McKenna — who serves as the UN’s greenwashing expert — said Canadian oilsands companies are greenwashing themselves and responsible public policy must address increasing emissions from the sector. #AlbertaWarRoom

At the United Nations climate change conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November, McKenna announced her high-level expert group’s recommendations to stop greenwashing in its tracks. At the core of the report’s recommendations are that any net-zero pledge made by a company, to be considered credible, must align with scientific pathways to limit global warming to the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5 C.

Other recommendations in the report say organizations must set short-term targets to lower emissions because climate science requires global emissions to drop by approximately half by 2030 if there is any hope of staying onside of 1.5 C. That means technologies that don’t work as advertised — like carbon capture technology — don’t have a place in a credible 2030 target.

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This demonstrates once again why the Canadian Energy Centre is more accurately described as the Alberta War Room. Ms McKenna's comments are accurate, if advisably sceptical about CCS for 20% of one province's upstream emissions. Alberta should be on board with plans for overall GHG reductions, but their War Room mentality dominates. And where are the feds; where is a credible plan to help Canada meet a global target of 1.5 degrees?

The 20% CCUS statement is probably still too generous of an estimate. Nonetheless, that still leaves 80% of Alberta's carbon industry emissions to contend with in the next 25 years if taken at face value. Greenwash indeed.

Barry Saxifrage wrote an analysis piece a few years ago comparing emissions by province. Alberta and Saskatchewan are dragging the entire nation down the carbon hole. According to Barry, Canada was otherwise on firm ground to meet its Paris targets. Put another way, the rest of Canada has to achieve zero total GHG emissions (!) just to allow Alberta and Saskatchewan to continue polluting.

In that light, it's time for the rest of Canada to push for universal electrification of the domestic economy. In addition, for the economics shared with our trading partners to catch up to the US government's latest climate bill and reduce their imports of Alberta bitumen through decreased demand resulting from substitutes with increasingly affordable renewable electricity. The oil sands cannot compete with the giant solar farms mushrooming in Nevada and the American's skyrocketing interest in cars without gas tanks. That is their primary export market. Note that BC sales of EVs alone (a representative sample of CAPP's domestic market) reached 25% of all new car sales last year.

I would prefer to see more walkable communities and transit expansion over substituting one power plant for another in cars, but that's not quite the reality yet. There are too many immature males and consumers succumbing to slick marketing. Further, evidence is accumulating to show that EVs will only substitute for combustion cars at less than a 1:1 ratio, mainly because of supply issues in materials like lithium, and also the high debt levels families have assumed before interest rates started to rise.

Still, it's satisfying to see the powerful Canadian fossil fuel industry starting to panic over their future, and get wrapped up in a tizzy over intelligent critical commentary made by knowledgable people like Catherine McKenna. The wise move would be to seriously expand their renewable energy departments and diversify in parallel with counting their profits from carbon. But wisdom seems like a rare commodity when these companies continue supporting the easily-countered propaganda of the War Room, let alone countering deeper critical analysis by climate-aware economists and others.

We are seeing hundreds of billions in stranded assets being created before our very eyes.

Article: "However, carbon capture cannot be widely used to capture planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions when the fuel is burned, like in the engine of a car. In fact, carbon capture is aimed at only capturing approximately 20 per cent of emissions from oil and gas over the fuel’s full life cycle."

In reality, it's even less effective.
20% implies CCS captures all upstream emissions. A significant over-estimate.

Carbon capture has limited application in the oilsands.
As the Pembina Institute notes, in the oilsands sector "most CO2 is emitted in low concentration streams, and the efforts to capture it will be challenging and expensive."
Where CO2 sources are small or diffuse, e.g., in the oilsands apart from upgraders, CCS is not economical or practical.
The Pembina Institute estimates that "full deployment of CCUS in all high-concentration streams could result in a decrease of c 7 Mt CO2e annually, which equates to 8% of total oilsands emissions."

CCS captures a tiny fraction of emissions at high cost to taxpayers.
CCS perpetuates the oil industry. Fossil fuels for longer means more emissions, not less.
The oilsands also grossly under-reports its emissions of all types.

McKenna should direct her criticism to Ottawa. The Trudeau Liberals are staking Canada's climate action plan — and billions of tax dollars — on white elephants in the oilsands: CCS, SMRs, and blue hydrogen.
A plan to fail.

As per 2022 Pembina Institute "Getting on Track" report, heaters and boilers generate low-concentration CO2 streams. The only practical CCS application in the oilsands is hydrogen production plants associated with upgraders.

The cost and effectiveness of CCS depends on several factors, including the size of the waste stream and the CO2 concentration. For carbon capture to be economical/practical, CO2 concentration and volume need to meet minimum requirements. It is more expensive and less worthwhile to try to capture CO2 from small or diffuse CO2 sources. In case of many small or diffuse CO2 sources, total emissions may be high, but CCS is not economical or practical. Low-concentration CO2 streams incur high compression costs. Distributed in situ projects (over a wide area) also incur high transportation costs. Thus, in situ projects are at a double disadvantage.
In the oilsands, upgrader hydrogen plants (hydrogen production from natural gas) have high-CO2 (16-18%) streams. In situ projects (natural gas combustion --> steam generation: steam boilers and cogeneration plants for SAGD; large gas-fired turbines, boilers, and heaters) have low-concentration (4-8%) CO2 streams.

CCS is practical only for upgrader hydrogen production plants, but much more expensive and less likely for in situ projects. CO2 from small or diffuse sources like vehicles, heavy diesel powered machinery and trucks, tailings ponds, and mine deposits cannot be captured at all.

The Pembina Institute estimates that "full deployment of CCUS in all high-concentration streams could result in a decrease of c 7 Mt CO2e annually, which equates to 8% of total oilsands emissions."
Tens of billions of public dollars out the window to capture a small fraction of total upstream emissions. Of course, reducing upstream emissions does nothing to cut the 80–90% of emissions generated from a barrel of oil downstream at the consumer end.
Getting on Track (Pembina Institute, March 2022)

More misinformation and false claims comes from Big Oil in Alberta, the War Room and even our UCP government than anywhere in Canada. These three even try to green wash the greenwashing

I spent nearly a quarter century living in Calgary. You are absolutely correct. I'm glad to be long gone from there. I recently uncovered my copy of Kevin Taft's 'Oil's Deep State' (2015) and put it near the top of my 'to (re)read' pile. His analysis as a former Alberta MLA about the near total capture of the Alberta government by the largely foreign-owned oil industry is as relevant as ever. Unfortunately, all that is now permeated by conspiracy insanity narratives. It's almost like a cartoon, or a George Orwell novel with unintended gag humour.