A complaint has been filed against the Pathways Alliance, urging Competition Bureau Canada to investigate the group’s claim it is committed to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The complaint filed Thursday by Greenpeace Canada takes specific aim at Pathways Alliance’s “Let’s clear the air” campaign launched in August. The Pathways group is composed of the country’s six largest oilsands companies, responsible for 95 per cent of oilsands production and just over 60 per cent of Canada’s total oil production. They are Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor.

Since August, Pathways Alliance has placed splashy advertisements across social media, billboards, at high-profile sporting events like the FIFA World Cup and the Super Bowl, and in some of Canada’s largest media outlets like the Toronto Star and CBC, claiming to be “on a path to net zero.”

“The Pathways Alliance of major oilsands companies [fills] the airwaves with net-zero claims but instead, their emissions are going up, they're investing a fraction of their profits in clean solutions and are lobbying against climate action,” former climate minister Catherine McKenna, who now chairs the United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Commitments of Non-State Entities, said in a statement. “Time to draw a red line around greenwashing.”

The complaint says the advertisements are aimed at “creating the public and political support necessary to maintain their oilsands production,” and that Pathways Alliance is engaging in “anti-competitive” behaviour by “attempting to unfairly gain an advantage … over other Canadian oil producers and clean energy producers trying to compete with oil in the market.”

“If the alliance’s misrepresentations are accepted, it will position the alliance’s oil as more climate-friendly than that of other Canadian oil producers, even though the downstream emissions from all oil is the same and contributes the majority of the overall climate impact,” the complaint says. “It also risks undermining actual clean energies from being competitive in the market since they will be seen as unnecessary when we already have ‘climate-friendly’ oil.”

Greenpeace Canada is requesting Competition Bureau Canada investigate Pathways Alliance and, if the group’s advertising is found to be false and misleading, for the regulator to require the alliance to remove all advertisements, issue a public retraction and pay a fine of at least $10 million to “preferably Indigenous-led” organizations to clean up oilsands pollution.

Central to the complaint is that Pathways has failed to incorporate the full life cycle of fossil fuel emissions when it claims it can achieve net zero, which falsely gives the impression it can actually achieve that goal. Specifically, the complaint says the Pathways Alliance plan to reach net-zero emissions doesn’t take into account the emissions when fossil fuels are actually burned, which is where over 80 per cent of fossil fuel emissions come from.

Emissions fall into three buckets. Scope 1 refers to the greenhouse gases a company emits when producing its product, Scope 2 refers to emissions indirectly related to production, like purchased electricity generated from coal power, and Scope 3 refers to emissions when the product is used, like the pollution spewed from a tailpipe when a car burns gasoline.

“The Pathways Alliance of major oilsands companies [fills] the airwaves with net-zero claims but instead, their emissions are going up... Time to draw a red line around greenwashing," says @cathmckenna. #cdnpoli

The vast majority of emissions from the fossil fuel industry come when the product is burned, meaning Scope 3 emissions are the most critical from a global perspective. Scope 3 emissions are typically left out of the industry’s net-zero plans, representing a massive loophole.

“Pathways is only counting scopes 1 and 2, whereas the Competition Bureau’s guide states that environmental claims must be subject to a consideration of the life cycle of a product,” reads the complaint.

However, before the complaint was filed with the bureau, Pathways Alliance edited its website to acknowledge the net-zero claims refer to only Scope 1 and 2 emissions. As of March, the group now acknowledges it is only aiming at a fraction of the emissions.

Pathways Alliance website in March 2023, acknowledging Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Screenshot by Canada's National Observer

Pathways Alliance website in January 2023, as archived. Screenshot by Canada's National Observer

Pathways Alliance did not return a request for comment asking why that change was made.

Greenpeace Canada legal counsel Priyanka Vittal told Canada’s National Observer the advertising campaign the climate advocacy organization is taking issue with isn’t limited to the claims made on the Pathways website.

Even with the clarification, “we don't think the general public is necessarily going to take that extra step to go visit their website, and then take the other extra step to look at Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and then take that extra other step to realize there's also Scope 3,” she said. “What the Competition Bureau has to consider here is what is the general impression of their advertising?”

By acknowledging the net-zero claims do not extend to Scope 3 emissions, Pathways Alliance is essentially confirming it is not taking fossil fuels’ full life cycle into account, Vittal said.

That appears to put the alliance in hot water because the Competition Bureau is clear that “the practice of making false or misleading environmental ads or claims is illegal,” and that to avoid making misleading claims, businesses must “take into consideration all relevant aspects of the product’s whole life cycle.”

Priyanka Vittal is legal counsel for Greenpeace Canada. Photo courtesy of Priyanka Vittal

The latest Competition Bureau complaint follows similar ones filed against RBC and the Canadian Gas Association last year.

Canadian law firm McMillan LLP said in November that the Competition Bureau has made tackling greenwashing “a high enforcement priority.” McMillan also said it was likely there will be more greenwashing investigations undertaken by the regulator because of that focus and because it’s a strategy being pushed by environmental advocates.

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Go get 'em. Sad that Greenpeace even had to file their complaint against Pathway Alliance. Where was the Competition Bureau and any other so called gate keepers in the first place. First time their pathetic advertising beamed into my living room, I had that queasy feeling in the pit of my gut and wondered "how can they get away with this, and keep a straight face?" And to think they have already now polluted the minds (not just bodies) of countless more Canadians. All this country needs is more voters who like the CPC pledge allegiance to the fossil fuel industry. I mean if you buy into P.A.'s advertising campaign, how else would you vote other than to maintain the status quo of the oile and gas industry?

Ditto, ML. i wonder if i could file suit for damages siting stress related issues, i was that upset every time i viewed this ad from PA. Can i say "lying pack of scumbags" on this platform?

As previously noted, carbon capture (CCS) does not even capture a majority of the oilsands industry's Scope 1 and 2 emissions, never mind Scope 3.

As per Pembina's "Getting on Track" report (2022), CCS has limited application in the oilsands. 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.
Pembina 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."

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.

P.S. Scope 3 is not limited to downstream emissions by fossil fuel consumers. Scope 3 emissions are the emissions both above your operations (supply chains) and below (consumers). Scope 3 emissions are a consequence of the activities of the company but occur from sources not owned or controlled by it. Scope 3 emissions are not produced by the company itself, and not the result of activities from assets owned or controlled by the company, but emissions that it is indirectly responsible for, up and down its value chain.

Then there is the question of scale:
"Imagine the amount of oil the energy industry pumps out of the ground every day all over the world. Now, imagine a new, parallel system pumping that much captured and liquefied CO2 back underground. That's carbon capture and sequestration."
"Will carbon capture deliver on its promises?" (Edmonton Journal, 04 Oct 2009)
Energy ecologist Vaclav Smil: "Mark my words, there'll be no massive sequestration of carbon. There hasn't been any, and there'll not be any next year, or 2025, or 2030.
"…The scale. We now make about 37 billion tons of CO2. 10% of that is 3.7 billion tons. Say 4 billion tons of CO2, just to control 10% of the problem. This is almost exactly the amount of crude oil we produce. It took us 100-plus years to develop an industry, which is taking 4 billion tons out of the ground and with the gradient, and then taking it up and refining and using it. Now we would have to develop a new industry, which would take 4 billion tons, and store it, push it against the gradient into the ground, and guarantee that it will stay there forever. Something like this cannot be done in 5, or 10, or 15 years. And this is 10%. So, simply on the matter of scale, carbon sequestration is just simply dead on arrival."
"Vaclav Smil: We Must Leave Growth Behind" (Intelligencer – New York Magazine)
"CCS carries the promise of business as usual with a minimum of inconvenience to the consumer. Under the promise of CCS, we can keep on burning massive amounts of fossil fuels.
"To implement CCS on the scale necessary to combat global warming will be a 'large, massive, daunting task.' The scale is staggering.
"However, the effort necessary would not be merely 'big' but so immense as to be impractical, according to Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba.
"Smil, a self-described 'intellectual agent provocateur,' has declared 'carbon sequestration is irresponsibly portrayed as an imminently useful option for solving the challenge (of global warming).'
"Smil has estimated that simply capturing a fraction of global emissions and sequestering them in one year would require moving volumes of fluid CO2 on a scale similar to the worldwide transportation of oil, a massive enterprise requiring tens of years and trillions of dollars.
"'Beware of the scale,' he said. 'Sequestering a mere 1/10 of today's global CO2 emissions (about 3 billion tonnes) would thus call for putting in place an industry that would have to force underground every year the volume of compressed gas larger than or ... equal to the volume of crude oil extracted globally by the petroleum industry whose infrastructures and capacities have been put in place over a century of development. Needless to say, such a technical feat could not be accomplished within a single generation.'
"...oilsands companies have backed away from CCS, realizing the technology will likely not help the industry reduce CO2 pollution because the oilsands have too many diffuse emission sources. In 2008, the CBC obtained internal federal briefing notes that explained that CCS is better suited to large single-point industrial sources of CO2 such as coal-fired plants. 'Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is 'capturable' since most emissions aren't pure enough. Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.'
"… any success may ultimately be limited to a relatively few projects due to cost, liability, technology, scale and public skepticism. CCS may turn out to be another costly Faustian bargain and classic technical fix.
"Instead of buying us time to find alternate sources of clean energy, CCS is buying politicians' time to avoid making tough, unpopular decisions. The allure of CCS as a political fix threatens to divert resources from energy efficiency and delay more durable reforms.
"In sum, the marriage of a brave new technology with a political fix for an immediate climate problem could have negative long-term consequences for Canadian taxpayers and water drinkers without stabilizing the climate."
"Burying CO2: Fix or folly?" (Edmonton Journal, 2009)

In a 2007 technical report prepared for the American Petroleum Institute, an API consultant warned: "Some estimates suggest that the amount of infrastructure necessary to perform geologic storage on a meaningful level is equivalent to the existing worldwide infrastructure associated with current oil and gas production."
"Summary of Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2EOR) Injection Well Technology" (Contek Solutions, 2007)
"One of the highest ratios in the world of energy science: the number of academic papers written on carbon sequestration divided by the actual amount of carbon sequestration (~0.1% of global emissions at last count). The infrastructure required for meaningful geologic carbon sequestration would be enormous. In addition, the energy and materials requirements for direct air carbon capture are essentially unworkable.
"...CCS is the most overhyped industrial process in the modern era, with hundreds of academic papers written and still just 0.1% of global CO2 emissions are sequestered underground."
J.P. Morgan: Eye On The Market, 2022 Annual Energy Paper

"After 20 years of planning and conjecture, by the end of 2020 carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities stored just 0.1% of global CO2 emissions. Challenges include cost overruns, failure of bellwether projects (Kemper Mississippi), the US Dep’t of Energy withdrawing support for demonstration projects (FutureGen), cancellations in Europe, legal uncertainties about liability and a 20%-40% energy drag required to perform CCS in the first place. ... The highest ratio in the history of science: the number of academic papers written on CCS divided by real-life implementation of it.
"...The Princeton CCS buildout, just to sequester an amount equal to 15% of current US GHG emissions, would require infrastructure whose throughput volume would be higher than the volume of oil flowing through US distribution and refining pipelines, a system which has taken over 100 years to build."
J.P. Morgan: Eye On The Market, 2021 Annual Energy Paper

The main purpose of CCS is to provide political cover for fossil fuel expansion and new projects. Climate plans banking on fossil fuel expansion and carbon capture (CCS) are not merely doomed to fail, but designed to fail.

"Lessons from Australia show CCUS is about capturing public opinion and public finances, not carbon" (National Observer, April 6th 2022)
"The principal purpose of CCUS has never been to tackle the climate crisis. Instead, CCUS serves to align public opinion and government policies with the fossil fuel industry's plans for unrestricted expansion under the cover of 'net-zero by 2050' rhetoric."

"Every Dollar Spent on This Climate Technology Is a Waste" (NY Times, 2022)
"What the technology, known as C.C.S., also does is allow for the continued production of oil and natural gas at a time when the world should be ending its dependence on fossil fuels.
"… Fifteen years ago, before the cost of renewable energy plummeted, carbon capture seemed like a good idea. When we began a start-up 14 years ago, the idea was that the technology could compete as a way to produce carbon-free electricity by capturing the CO2 emissions emitted from power plants and burying them. But now it's clear that we were wrong, and that every dollar invested in renewable energy — instead of C.C.S. power — will eliminate far more carbon emissions.
"… But by promoting C.C.S., the fossil fuel industry is slowing the transition away from fossil fuels.
"… [Previous C.C.S.] projects failed because renewable electricity generation outcompetes C.C.S. Renewable power now is cheaper than coal-fired power without C.C.S. Add the cost of the energy required to couple C.C.S. with fossil fuel power and it becomes hopelessly uncompetitive."

"Yet even RBC admits that a rapid deployment of [carbon capture] technology isn't very likely.
"'It's pricey, slow to build, adds costs, relies on complex engineering, and sometimes fails to capture or store emissions effectively,' RBC explains in the April report (2022). 'The technology also needs to be tested in large-scale settings. As yet, there are no major plants that capture CO2 from the combustion of natural gas, which is the primary application for the oilsands.'
"But there is one clear advantage to be gained from carbon capture and storage — it buys the oil and gas industry time.
"To climate experts like Richard Brooks, director of the climate finance program at the advocacy group Stand.earth, RBC's current climate strategy is merely an excuse to keep fossil fuel profits flowing as long as possible.
"'RBC says it wants to achieve net zero by 2050,' he said. 'But you scratch slightly below the surface, not very far, and you can see that they have no plan to get there.'"
"What Haunts Canada's Banks? A Green Pivot from Oilsands" (The Tyee, 4-May-22)

Yepp, all the above.
In addition, the "clean" electricity used in O&G industries is no longer available for electrification of residences, vehicles and other industries.
In quite the same way that forests burned down or clearcut are no longer available as carbon sinks.
There's an unhappy tendency of O&G proponents to ignore that they're stealing from Peter so that Paul can reduce a measly proportion of O&G GWGs. And the way it's proceeding, it's the people of Canada who pay for Paul to make our electricity more expensive and less available, in addition to the ongoing lining of O&G execs' and shareholders' pockets.

CCS = DOA. I like that.

"If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself." ~ Joseph Goebbels

The O&G industry took the quote right out of Goebbels mouth and is trying to con all of us with their Bullsh*t.

This thing about childish mis-accountancy on carbon applies to the Alberta government as much as anyone. Include Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions in the calculation, but not Scope 3? Or boast about how the industry is "cleaning up" production but ignoring downstream combustion? This is Scope 3 bullshit.

One of the mis-accountancy biggies out here in the coast is the total lack of a proper, independent, professional risk assessment on diluted bitumen spills in the marine environment as part of the TMX project. With a cost now north of 30B in taxpayer-supported debt, surely a lack of money isn't a legitimate excuse.

Not only is it a competition standards issue, but believe it or not, we do have advertising standards in Canada. I've not yet been able to discover whether only the payor for the advertising is at fault, or if the advertising media is also accountable (in theory at least), and whether ads that have already been pulled or finished their lifecycle are subject to penalty.