The climate crisis is no longer a challenge of technology or imagination; it has become a race against time. Governments around the world have to make decisions about what they will prioritize, and they’re making those decisions under a ticking clock.
Fortunately, Canada’s government has already identified the cheapest, fastest and most feasible way to reduce short-term temperature rise: methane. Methane traps more than 80 times as much heat in the short term as carbon dioxide and is causing at least 25 per cent of current global warming.
Pollution from leaks, vents and flares in the oil and gas supply chain is one of the leading sources of methane emissions in Canada. And because methane is the primary ingredient of natural gas, an important and valuable energy resource, capturing oil and gas methane emissions is the best option we have for quick and effective climate action and addressing energy security.
In 2021, the federal government’s climate plan pledged to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 75 per cent by 2030. This is both ambitious and achievable, but ambition doesn’t become achievement without strong final regulations and funding for the programs that put that ambition into practice.
The United States is already executing on both of these fronts. Without bold and swift action, Canada risks missing its 2030 targets and falling behind its southern neighbour.
Regulations and funding are the main obstacles on the path to hitting Canada’s 2030 methane benchmarks. The International Energy Agency estimates that 75 per cent of methane emissions can be reduced with existing technologies, and a new study commissioned by the EDF shows Canada can reach its methane target at an average cost of only $11/tonne, significantly less than the cost of Canada’s carbon tax. This is the most affordable and effective way to cut emissions, and Canada needs strong leadership from the Trudeau government to make it happen.
Flaring natural gas
Here’s an example: Canada’s 2022 methane proposal for achieving the 75 per cent reduction target would prohibit the wasteful and highly polluting practice of flaring natural gas at oil sites.
This is a necessary and cost-effective step that would seriously reduce methane emissions with sufficient monitoring and enforcement. The proposal needs a clear suite of details for measuring these reductions to make sure the rules are having an impact, or all this work will only ever be ambition. For an example of how to properly implement methane monitoring, we can look to the U.S.
Regulations and funding are the main obstacles on the path to hitting Canada’s 2030 methane benchmarks, write Ari Pottens and @DanGrossmanColo #methane #ActOnClimate #cdnpoli
The state of Colorado recently approved a groundbreaking rule that will require operators to measure methane pollution from oil and gas sites instead of reporting estimates based on outdated assumptions (called emissions factors) about equipment and production throughput. Estimates based on emissions factors are consistently lower than what independent researchers using direct measurement techniques find.
In Canada, direct measurement will help federal and provincial regulators get an accurate assessment of how much methane is actually being emitted and how much needs to be cut to meet the nation’s 2030 goals.
The U.S. has also made a monetary commitment to methane reduction, most notably the Methane Emissions Reduction Program, which provides $1.55 billion to improve methane monitoring and reduction in the oil and gas sector. This funding is not just a climate commitment, it’s also a strong public investment in a rapidly growing industry that has already created thousands of well-paying American jobs.
In contrast, Canada has allocated nearly zero funds to improve and centralize methane measurement — failing to, as of yet, follow through on a commitment made in 2021. Investing in methane abatement will spur growth in an important new industry, reduce emissions and conserve a crucial natural resource that is currently being leaked, vented and flared into the atmosphere.
Catching up isn’t just a matter of national pride — the deadline for reducing methane emissions is only 6.5 years away and research suggests Canadian oil and gas is emitting twice as much methane as is being reported. Canada needs to rapidly establish a robust methane monitoring infrastructure so that it can make more informed decisions and protect the climate.
The entire world is already feeling the effects of increasing temperatures: wildfires, droughts, hotter summers and more severe and unpredictable weather events. It’s not often that one of the easiest solutions is also one of the most effective ones, but that’s the exact opportunity in front of us.
The federal government can make a lasting impact and meet the incredible promise of its 2022 proposal by delivering a bold set of regulations and robust funding to make it a reality.
Ari Pottens is senior campaign manager, Canada, for the Environmental Defense Fund. Dan Grossman is the associate vice-president, energy transition, for the Environmental Defense Fund