Energy industry emissions, not cow farts, need to be strictly regulated says ENGO, labour coalition in new campaign
Two actors in a cow suit showed up at the Alberta Legislature today because, well, that’s what it takes to get the public to pay attention to the issue of methane – 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 – emissions, according to Duncan Kinney.
“No one is talking about methane. To get people to pay attention to one of the most important climate issues the Alberta government is facing, we literally need to hire actors and rent a two-person cow costume to get reporters to show up to our press event,” he said in an interview.
The new campaign is spearheaded by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of environmental non-governmental organizations and organized labour, and includes an open letter to Premier Rachel Notley: “Developing effective methane regulations is one of the flagship pieces of the Climate Leadership Plan because it is one the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce greenhouse gas pollution while creating jobs. The signers of this letter are calling on the government to bring in world leading methane regulations designed for Alberta’s needs.”
The Alberta government has committed to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 45 per cent. But Kinney, a spokesperson for the campaign, says there is some concern that industry will try to get Notley to water down that requirement.
“Industry is going to do what industry goes,” says Kinney. “The government is in the middle of its process right and we want to make sure they follow through on their promises.”
Sherry Sian, manager of resource access at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says her organization’s members are committed to achieving the provincial methane emissions reduction target of 45 per cent.
“In fact, solution gas conservation rates in Alberta, based on the most recent ST60B report state that venting rates have been reduced by 90% from crude bitumen production and 97% for crude oil production,” Sian said in an emailed statement.
“Thereby, reductions in methane emissions have been actively occurring since 2014.”
On the face of it, the ENGOs/labour and CAPP appear to be on the same page.
But beneath the surface is a deep mistrust between the two camps, on this issue and larger issues around energy and climate policy.
Industry is worried about what it says are rapidly rising regulatory compliance costs. Gary Leach is the CEO of the Energy Producers Association of Canada, the trade group of small to medium-sized oil and gas producers.
“I know a lot of opponents of this industry would take the view that we’re lightly regulated or unregulated or not regulated enough, but I think we are highly regulated,” Leach said in an interview.
Those regulations come with a cost, he says, that have to be added to the higher cost structure due to geography, climate, remoteness, transportation costs, and high wages.
“We are a high-cost place to operate, a long way from markets, and with our world-class regulatory system there are regulatory costs of compliance that add to the cost burden of operating in Western Canada,” he said.
Regulatory compliance costs are a serious concern to EPAC, CAPP, and other industry groups, which are starting to publicly push back as oil prices continue to hover around $50 a barrel, with no short-term relief in sight.
But Kinney and Blue Green Canada argue that methane is a valuable resource and taking more action to keep it from escaping into the atmosphere benefits everyone.
“Venting, flaring, and leaking of methane is an unfortunate waste of an incredibly valuable resource. By effectively and efficiently capturing more methane we can address climate change while generating more jobs, develop key technology that can be exported around the world, and generate more royalties to pay for hospitals, schools, and roads,” reads the letter to Notley.
In fact, methane leak detection is an emerging business in Alberta, according to Kinney, pointing to the innovative Alberta companies supplying methane capture and detection technologies and services.
Methane is the “Rodney Dangerfield of greenhouse gases and Alberta’s climate plan,” it gets no respect, he adds.
“The talk around pipelines sucks up a ton of oxygen around climate change action in Alberta. We’re trying to change the channel. Get the public talking about methane,” he said.
“We’d like to see smart, effective and fair methane regulations with regular inspections and real penalties for bad actors. We only have to look to Colorado for a state that has strong methane regulations, a vibrant oil and gas industry, and far better air quality than before.”
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