It’s been nearly two years since the Pathways Alliance, a consortium of Canada’s major oilsands companies, was created with the express purpose of achieving “net zero by 2050.” At least, that’s what it keeps saying its purpose is. With each passing day, it gets harder to avoid the conclusion that the real objective is to buy time with advertising campaigns and other public expressions of its good intentions until the next federal election. If that yields a new Conservative government that can relieve the industry of its responsibilities to the environment, the millions fossil fuel firms have spent on advertising and government relations consultants will yield billions in savings on the emissions they won’t have to reduce — or pay for.

That’s the cynical take, anyway. The less cynical one is that the companies want to proceed with these projects but are unwilling to call out the real impediment standing in their way: Pierre Poilievre’s Conservative Party of Canada. For all of the industry’s talk about “uncertainty” in federal policies around climate change and carbon pricing, the biggest source of uncertainty right now is coming from Poilievre and his promise to “axe the tax.” The threat of a future Poilievre government eliminating the federal carbon tax means oilsands companies can’t bake a rising price on carbon into their economic modelling, which makes emissions reduction efforts increasingly valuable. It’s why they keep asking for something called “carbon contracts for difference,” a financial instrument that will effectively lock in a rising price on carbon even if a future government cancels it.

They need Pierre Poilievre insurance, in other words, not that they’d ever say that out loud. Take Cenovus Energy, one of the biggest oilsands companies in Canada. Its CEO, Jon McKenzie, told investors on a recent earnings call that it won’t hit its own stated emissions reductions targets for 2030 without immediate progress on major carbon capture and storage projects. “There’s no doubt that to reach the 2030 targets of what’s doable, we need to move on that today… But we can’t move on those targets until we get the certainty from the levels of government that we’re currently negotiating with that allow for certainty and investment in these kinds of projects.”

Rhona DelFrari, Cenovus’s chief sustainability officer, echoed that talking point this week. “We’re also dealing in Canada with significant policy uncertainty right now,” she told the Calgary Herald’s Chris Varcoe. “The result is a lack of clarity that companies need to make long-term, multi-decade, multibillion-dollar decarbonization investment decisions.”

And yet, despite many billions in federal incentives and the promise of a rising price on carbon, those decisions are still not being made. There are really only two possible explanations: the industry doesn’t want to risk making them or it doesn’t think it will have to if it waits long enough. Neither is nearly close to good enough.

The federal government isn’t the problem here, as much as industry representatives want to pretend otherwise. It’s been extremely transparent about its intentions, whether that’s financial support for carbon capture and storage projects or the creation of an emissions cap on the oil and gas sector. Bill C-59, the legislation enabling Ottawa’s multibillion-dollar carbon capture and credit incentives, has already been tabled in the House of Commons and is in the midst of committee review in the Senate. And while the Trudeau team made the political decision to carve out carbon tax exemptions for home heating oil, no such relief will be forthcoming for Canada’s largest industrial emitters.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is clearly getting annoyed with the oil and gas industry’s ongoing filibuster and its obvious impact on Canada’s decarbonization efforts. “It is now time for the industry to start to show actual progress on the ground,” he said last month in an interview with the Calgary Herald. His press secretary, Carolyn Svonkin, reiterated that message earlier this week. “He is getting more frustrated as they continue to drag their heels, despite the federal government delivering on everything that is promised.”

But Canadians should be just as frustrated here. This is, after all, an industry with a track record of not living up to its lofty promises. The management framework for conventional oil and gas liabilities that the Alberta government announced in 2020 included a promised annual spending quota for cleanup work, one that would begin at $700 million in 2023 and rise to $992 million by 2027. Alas, despite two years of record profits, this talk proved to be predictably cheap. As University of Calgary professors Martin Olszynski and Sara Hastings-Simon noted in a recent op-ed, “The unsurprising result is that this year’s spending didn’t increase, while the forecast increases for subsequent years have all mysteriously vanished. Meanwhile, the liability crisis remains essentially unchanged.”

The playbook, then, seems pretty obvious. Stall for time, make big promises and continue with business as usual for as long as humanly possible. If and when the bill finally comes due, someone other than the current generation of corporate executives and shareholders will have to pay it. For an industry that likes to talk about how ethical its operations are, this is a very bad look — one that will only get worse with the passage of time. If only they cared as much about things like that.

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Max - the third possibility is that they know it won't work, have no intention of moving on it, and have only ever used it to distract - to the same ends that ypu are arguing for.

Fawcett's argument is fallacious. It assumes that carbon capture and storage is a useful tool for reducing O&G emissions. And that taxpayers should foot the bill. These dubious premises need to be proved. The evidence suggests otherwise.

CCS is a giant smokescreen. A fake climate solution. It's main purpose is to provide political cover for O&G expansion.
CCS subsidies are a gross misuse of tax dollars.
Pollution control, clean-up, reclamation — all standard costs of doing business. Why are taxpayers on the hook for industry's business expenses? What about free enterprise? Polluter-pay principle?
Why don't we pay for Cenovus's pencils and paper too? Does poor CEO Alex Pourbaix need a new private jet?
CCS captures a fraction of industry's upstream emissions and zero emissions downstream at the consumer end. Captures no other fossil-fuel pollutants.
CCS captures not one molecule of the 80-90% of emissions from a barrel of oil generated downstream by consumers. No CCS for cars, trucks, ships, or jets.
CCS applies only to that small fraction of upstream emissions in concentrated waste streams. I.e., even if upstream CCS were effective, it would not produce net-zero oil and gas.
Expensive, energy-intensive, and inefficient. Limited application in the oilsands.
Pembina Institute: In the oilsands sector, "most CO2 is emitted in low concentration streams, and the efforts to capture it will be challenging and expensive."

Staggering sense of entitlement in the O&G industry. Taxpayers don't owe these companies a nickel.
Privatize the profits, socialize the costs. The fossil fuel industry's business model.
Huge opportunity costs. We have cheaper ways to cut more emissions faster. Why invest scarce public resources in CCS?
If Cenovus believes CCS is a viable solution in the oilsands, let them pay for it.

Fawcett: "And while the Trudeau team made the political decision to carve out carbon tax exemptions for home heating oil, no such relief will be forthcoming for Canada’s largest industrial emitters."

The federal carbon tax does not apply to Alberta's large industrial emitters.
The federal backstop carbon pricing scheme is economy-wide for consumers, institutions, and much of the business sector. The federal carbon levy on consumers and businesses does not apply to large industrial emitters anywhere in Canada. Large industrial emitters are subject to federal and equivalent provincial Output-Based Pricing Systems (OBPS).
The federal backstop Output-Based Pricing System (OBPS) for large industrial emitters does not apply to large emitters in Alberta. Alberta's large industrial emitters, including oilsands companies (Pathways Alliance), fall under the province's own Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction Regulation (TIER) pricing regime. TIER predates federal carbon pricing by more than a decade.

Federal and provincial carbon pricing schemes for large industrial emitters shields them from carbon pricing. The purpose of the OBPS and its provincial counterparts is not to expose heavy emitters to the carbon price, but to shield them from it, so they can remain competitive in global markets. Large industrial emitters, including in AB's oilsands, effectively pay a fraction of consumer rates. Major O&G companies pay pennies on the dollar in carbon costs.
Federal and provincial carbon pricing systems do not impair large industrial emitters' profits — or reduce their emissions. Oilsands emissions do nothing but climb year after year.

Fawcett: "For an industry that likes to talk about how ethical its operations are, this is a very bad look — one that will only get worse with the passage of time."

Canada's Ethical™ O&G industry grossly underreports its emissions of all types. With the federal government's full knowledge and complicity. Environment Canada / NRCan also grossly miscalculates Canada's forestry emissions. The federal government is not an innocent party.

My Alberta relatives and friends, many of whom voted for the UCP, can only sit by their windows and watch the world passing them by. They may eventually notice that the scenery is moving faster and faster with every passing year.

The link between the increasing speed of getting left behind and their vote may not dawn on all of them, but one day some of them may wake up to the declining future prospects of fossil fuels and the provincial leadership they supported.

Will it be too late? Probably, given the advances in increasingly affordable energy alternatives appearing practically every month in other parts of the world, currently nibbling away at the demand for Alberta oil.

The transition works both ways. Alberta's bus is plunging into decline on purpose, mainly because the driver is inebriated by petroleum and is working under orders to protect her benefactors and put the Albertan passengers at risk of driving off a cliff.

One thing the passengers don't know is that the driver has an escape door and is wearing a parachute embazened with logos, like Suncor, Cenovus and Imperial in full display while spiraling downward to an unseen bottom of a deep ravine.