Alberta’s proposed methane-emission regulations will achieve only half the reductions the province is aiming for, says a coalition of environmental groups who are urging Ottawa to impose tougher federal rules on the oil and gas industry.
In a joint submission to the provincial regulator, the groups said the draft regulations are too lax in the amount of methane that companies are allowed to vent into the atmosphere, and include weak inspection and repair standards.
“It’s pretty incontrovertible that these regulations are not equivalent” to the federal ones that were finalized in April, said Drew Nelson, director of the U.S-based Environmental Defense Fund’s methane program.
Working with Calgary’s Pembina Institute and the Vancouver-based David Suzuki Foundation, EDF produced an assessment of Alberta’s draft regulations that concludes the rules would only reduce emissions by roughly 20 per cent by 2025, compared with the government’s target of 45 per cent.
The oil industry has endorsed the need to reduce emissions of methane from its operations but warns that overly prescriptive rules will hurt investment and jobs in the province.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said Alberta’s draft regulations would cut methane emissions by 46 per cent by 2025, at a cost to industry of $800-million.
The federal government concluded its approach would cost oil companies $2.4-billion over the next seven years, and cut industry’s methane emissions by more than 40 per cent, with nearly 60 per cent of those reductions coming in Alberta.
However, CAPP said the federal rules will cost $5-billion between now and 2025, and reduce emissions by 68 per cent.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that flows from oil-industry operations, and major international companies are proclaiming their intention to significantly reduce leaks and venting.
The divide over who should regulate Canada’s methane emissions poses yet another front in the war over energy and environmental policy that is pitting the Conservative Party against the federal Liberals, and the United Conservative Party of Alberta against Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats.
Alberta argues its approach will achieve similar emission reductions to what Ottawa has targeted, but at a lower cost to industry. The regulator is currently considering feedback on the draft regulations and will make its recommendations to the government this fall.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna must determine whether the provincial rules are “equivalent” to federal regulations. If so, Ottawa would cede the jurisdiction to the province.
However, if Environment Canada determines the Alberta regulations fall short, the federal government will impose its more prescriptive rules on the industry, which is complaining that mounting environmental costs are undermining its competitiveness.
A spokesman for the Alberta’s Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd said the government disagrees with the conclusions of the environmental groups.
The provincial government “continues to be confident in our firm commitment to reduce industrial methane pollution by 45 per cent,” Mark McKinnon said in an email.
In its submission to the Alberta Energy Regulator, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said its members support the 45-per-cent reduction target.
However, action must be taken “in a manner that both enables the pursuit of lowest cost abatement and improves the competitiveness of Alberta’s oil and gas resources in global markets,” CAPP’s executive vice-president Terry Abel said in a letter to the regulator.
Indeed, CAPP argued the draft Alberta rules are too stringent in some areas. It urged a reduction in the number of inspections proposed in the draft regulations for operations that are not considered a major source of leaks.
A province can seek an “equivalency” ruling from Ottawa to exempt it from federal regulations once it has released its own final rules. Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia are all expected to pursue that option, as each province is developing its own regulations.