The truth, it’s said, will set you free. That apparently doesn't apply to Canada’s oil and gas industry, though. Witness the furious overreaction from its various proxies to federal legislation that would require it to back up the promises it makes about its environmental achievements with credible evidence. Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz, one of its most enthusiastic (and ironic) proxies, described the federal government’s legislation targeting greenwashing by oil and gas companies as “an undemocratic gag order.” In a subsequent fundraising email she even suggested that it would “cripple our industry” if passed.

If holding the oil and gas industry to account for the promises it has spent many millions of dollars making to Canadians is “crippling,” it suggests those promises don’t hold up to any real scrutiny. Pathways Alliance executive chair Derek Evans more or less admitted as much when he told the CBC last month that “we've talked for 40 years about climate change… and we've done very, very little about it.”

The recent appearance by various oilsands company CEOs last week in front of the House Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development only reinforced the point Evans stumbled into making. Imperial Oil’s Brad Corson wasn’t nearly as candid about his industry’s long-standing habit of over-promising and under-delivering on emissions reductions, but he also invited the same comparison. “I think you just need to judge us by our actions,” he told the committee.

Let’s do that. Corson’s company, for example, has proudly trumpeted the application of a new solvent technology that could reduce the per-barrel emissions coming from its so-called “in situ” operations (oilsands reserves that have to be essentially steamed out of the ground rather than mined) by as much as 40 per cent. Sounds pretty good, right?

It might if you omitted every piece of relevant context. As the Alberta government’s energy war room — sorry, the “Canadian Energy Centre” — noted in a puff piece on the project, “it’s an oilsands innovation that’s been in the works for more than two decades.” That sort of wait might be worth it if the technology was being applied across the industry’s entire range of oilsands projects. Alas, it’s only making those reductions right now on 15,000 barrels per day, which is just over one per cent of the industry’s total steam-driven production and 0.45 per cent of its overall oilsands production.

For all of said industry’s talk about improving per-barrel emissions, they've barely budged on steam-driven projects like this since 2010. As the Canada Energy Regulator notes, the per-barrel emissions on so-called “in situ” barrels fell by just eight per cent between 2010 and 2020. This works out to an average improvement of less than 1 per cent per year. To hit the net-zero target these companies keep saying they intend to reach, they’d have to increase that rate of improvement by something on the order of 10 times. And the more they stall for time, the more dramatic that increase will have to be.

CEOs such as Corson don't seem bothered in the least by this glacial pace, though. “I’m quite proud of the progress that we’ve demonstrated in reducing the emissions intensity of each barrel we produced,” he told the committee. His company’s goal, he says, is a 30 per cent reduction from 2016 levels by 2030. What he won’t say is that 2016’s levels were 57 kilograms of CO2e per barrel, and a 30 per cent reduction from there still leaves the company with 40 kilograms per barrel to abate — and only two decades in which to do it if it's to reach net-zero by 2050. Slow and steady, the pace at which companies such as Imperial have been reducing their per-barrel emissions, will not win this race.

But this is why the oilsands CEOs always talk about relative improvements in emissions rather than absolute ones. Their relentless focus on reductions in emissions intensity, especially when they’re coming from such a high overall baseline, is a deliberate attempt to distract people with trees rather than the forest. That becomes especially obvious when you see the extent to which industry leaders oppose or object to policies that would actually force them to deliver the emissions reductions they keep promising.

According to InfluenceMap, which bills itself as “an independent think tank producing data-driven analysis on how business and finance are impacting the climate crisis,” the Pathways Alliance of oilsands companies “has opposed multiple Canadian policies that target the decarbonization of the sector, such as the Oil and Gas Emissions Cap, Clean Electricity Regulations, and Methane Regulations.” If someone insists they’re on a diet but then rejects every attempt to change the way they eat or exercise, you can be forgiven for doubting their sincerity. The same principle holds true here.

The big oil sands companies love telling Canadians that they're committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. So why are they so nervous about legislation that would force them to back their lofty promises with real evidence?

The truth is these oil companies are waiting for some industrial equivalent of Ozempic, the weight-loss wonder drug, to fall into their collective laps. Maybe that’s an even bigger government subsidy for the carbon capture and storage projects they refuse to build. Maybe that’s a Conservative government that will simply release them from their responsibilities on this front entirely. Either way, they clearly still think reducing emissions is an optional choice for their businesses rather than an existential one.

The federal government — and especially this federal government — can’t force these executives to face up to the reality of climate change. But it can and should force them to stop pretending they’re on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. If that “cripples” their businesses, well, that kind of says it all.

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Government subsidies for the carbon capture and storage projects, are a waste of time & money and nothing short of greenwashing in my eyes. The subsidies for carbon capture are just another way of offering subsidies to an industry that is not interested in curbing emissions. Justin Trudeau's Liberals are essentially complicit in this greenwashing activity.

Well said John. CC&S is just one of the shells in the Oil & Gas shell game. Where is the ball? Where is the ball? Is it under this one? How about that one? A ridiculous delaying tactic. Instead of small pilot projects they are holding out for a grand CC&S project with distributed CO2 piping, blah, blah, blah - Yah right! Give them enough taxpayer money and maybe they will get an engineering study put together, but it will never get built.

I am curious to know why Fawcett says the Liberals cannot force oil sands developers to reduce their emissions? What's holding them back? Lack of courage? Party principles? Prior agreements with Alberta government? Whatever it is, they have until next year to get over it.

"the per-barrel emissions on so-called 'in situ' barrels fell by just eight per cent between 2010 and 2020"

The atmosphere does not care about emissions per barrel. The absolute amount of GHG emissions is what drives warming.

As raw bitumen exports increase, a smaller fraction is upgraded in Canada. Shifting emissions from Canadian upgraders to U.S. refineries. An accounting maneuver that reduces emissions per barrel by exporting them.
Nominal (grossly under-reported) absolute oilsands emissions do nothing but climb year after year.

"Canadian methane emissions are vastly underestimated' (CP, Nov 14th 2022)
"A recent survey of oil and gas facilities in Canada found widespread methane releases. Satellite imagery saw giant plumes of the gas escaping landfills. And published research suggests claims of success at curtailing the gas may be partly the result of accounting changes, not actual reductions.
"… Even Canada's successes may be overstated. A peer-reviewed study last week suggested they may be at least partly the result of a change made in 2020 in how emissions are calculated.
"Researchers from the Environmental Defense Fund found a dramatic drop in Alberta's emissions between 2019 and 2020 coincided with a new method of calculating them. When they applied the old method to the new data, the drop was much less."

Scott P. Seymour et al., "Sources and reliability of reported methane reductions from the oil and gas industry in Alberta, Canada", Elementa, Nov 01 2022
Abstract: "Since committing to a 40%–45% reduction in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in Canada by 2025, relative to 2012 levels, the federal government has reported significant emission reductions from the industry in its largest producing province, Alberta.
"At the same time, multiple measurement studies have shown that the industry’s emissions in Canada’s national greenhouse gas inventory are underreported, generally by a factor of 1.5 to 2. To better understand the source and reliability of claimed emission reductions, we developed an upstream oil and gas (UOG) methane emissions inventory model for the province of Alberta, 2011–2021, following government methodologies.
"The model revealed that historically only approximately 28% of Alberta’s UOG methane emissions are based on reported data, and although more comprehensive reporting was enforced in 2020, further analysis suggests that this reporting shift could represent a significant fraction of the apparent emission reductions since 2012.
"Reviewing the data and modeling assumptions underlying the inventory estimate revealed significant uncertainty in not only modeled emission sources but also in the operator-reported data. These findings imply that the reported emission trends since 2012 are highly uncertain, and even future emission factor updates might not improve the reliability in reported trends of emission reduction. This poses a significant problem for the validation of the stated 40%–45% reduction from 2012 levels."

"Canada’s oilsands companies can’t handle the truth"

More accurate to say Canada’s oilsands companies can’t TELL the truth. Or won't.
More directly, O&G corporations and their enablers are pathological liars.

Not that you will ever read that in a headline.
Maybe we can’t handle the truth.

The oilsands companies know the truth very well, and they certainly handle it. They handle it by doing their best to make sure nobody else finds out.

Meanwhile, the growth curve in international investments in renewables is getting steeper every year. Entire jurisdictions like California and Australia's state of Victoria have suddenly achieved low carbon power demand at peak periods by ramping up the use of massive banks of batteries on the grid. Even with the hundreds of billions in subsidies for CCS and other forms of fossil fuel subsidies, the money flowing into solar, wind and grid batteries has exceeded carbon subsidies and investments pretty much year over year now.

Canadian politics and industry will not fix our climate problem by using tweezers to remove a house-sized boulder from a building site. International investments in renewable energy projects are lining up to show how it's done, namely by eliminating demand for oil, gas and coal in Canada's export markets. Canadian banks and their mainly foreign owned oil company clients working in Canada, as well as governments, are now risking Canada's economy by not addressing its carbon content. This petro state could become an electro state if it really wanted to.

Destroy the demand for Canadian oil in the world, and Canada will then be forced into addressing carbon no matter what the PR flacks in industry and government say.