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Suncor Energy Inc. president and chief executive Rich Kruger waits to appear before the House of Commons standing committee on natural resources in Ottawa on Monday.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Suncor Energy Inc. SU-T remains committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, the chief executive officer has told a parliamentary committee, after controversially suggesting in the summer that the company would not prioritize long-term energy transition.

Rich Kruger was invited by the natural resources committee to testify Monday in Ottawa after he told an investor call in August that the Calgary-based energy giant should return to its roots as an oil company and focus on the business of low-cost production and maximizing profits.

Those comments became something of a political football. Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said it proved why the government needed to regulate climate action in the oil and gas industry. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith fired back that Mr. Guilbeault was provocatively attacking the energy sector and would destabilize investment.

The parliamentary committee is investigating the steps Canada and the energy sector must take to keep net-zero plans on track, and ensure the country embraces opportunities presented by the transformation of North America’s energy system. It contended that Mr. Kruger’s comments threw into doubt Suncor’s emissions-reduction commitments.

Mr. Kruger dismissed that take on Monday, saying the company’s plans to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050 have not changed since he took over as CEO in April.

“It’s two things: It’s good for business and it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

“When those things can overlap, we are sufficiently incentivized to spend money to research and to pursue new business opportunities. And we do think the decarbonization of our existing hydrocarbon business and looking for new alternate fuel sources energy sources is, quite frankly, just good business.”

MPs spent an hour questioning Mr. Kruger about Suncor’s business plans, and what the company is spending to reduce emissions and lower its environmental footprint, particularly in light of the oil and gas sector’s record profits.

Suncor is doing that in two ways, Mr. Kruger said: Decarbonizing its fundamental base businesses, both upstream and in refining; and developing new technologies, including alternative fuels.

He pointed to Suncor’s $1.5-billion spend to convert its oil sands mining sites to natural gas from coke to provide heat and steam for its operations, which will significantly reduce emissions, for example, and a pilot project to use solvents in its oil sands operations (as opposed to steam).

The meeting took a sometimes testy tone, particularly when NDP member Charlie Angus asked about legal liabilities of oil companies in climate-linked natural disasters, including more and worse forest fires and floods.

Mr. Kruger said Canada needs to figure out how to effectively and affordably decarbonize the oil and gas sector, to ensure it can retain its share of a fossil-fuel market that global outlooks forecast will remain the world’s largest source of energy for years to come.

“We are selective and targeted to ensure we have what it takes to compete and create sustainable opportunities. We are committed to ensuring a profitable, high-performing business today so that we can have a profitable, high-performing and sustainable business in the future,” he said.

“It’s about both today and tomorrow. Not one or the other.”

The natural resources committee has heard from more than 20 other witnesses as it prepares its report for Parliament, including academics, various federal department officials and industry groups such as Electricity Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Association and the Canadian Renewable Energy Association.

Alberta-based utility, construction and natural-gas distribution company ATCO Ltd., the Pathways Alliance and the Indian Resource Council have also testified.

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