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Ottawa says the natural gas industry is already on track to meet a past target to cut methane emissions by up to 45 per cent by 2025.David Goldman/The Associated Press

Ottawa says it will ban common industry practices at natural gas facilities as part of new methane regulations that will force the sector to dramatically cut emissions.

The federal government announced Monday the revised draft methane emissions regulations at COP28, the United Nations climate talks in Dubai. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said the new rules will allow Canada to cut its methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 75 per cent below 2012 levels by 2030. They will take effect beginning in 2027 and be fully in place by 2030, according to Mr. Guilbeault’s spokesperson, Oliver Anderson.

Ottawa says the industry is already on track to meet a past target to cut methane emissions by up to 45 per cent by 2025. Alberta, the heart of Canada’s oil and gas industry, said last week the sector has reduced methane emissions by 45 per cent from 2014 levels.

“By tackling methane emissions, we’re activating one of the most powerful levers we have against climate change,” Mr. Guilbeault said during a COP28 panel.

The regulations would largely prohibit venting gas into the environment, set new standards for combustion systems and subject some sites to more frequent inspections, according to a technical background document released by Ottawa. They also propose a second compliance option where facilities can elect to install continuous methane emission monitoring systems to ensure they are meeting a performance standard.

Mr. Guilbeault told the panel in Dubai that Canada is also looking at addressing methane emissions in the agriculture sector and is developing regulations aimed at reducing landfill methane emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 from 2019 levels.

Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – measured over 100 years, it’s 25 times more potent. It is lost to the atmosphere during natural gas extraction and processing, for example from unintentional leaks in equipment or controlled venting and flaring. As the principal component of natural gas, limiting methane leaks is viewed as a cost-effective way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.

But until recently, a critical data gap meant that methane emissions have been underestimated. In the past two years, studies have cast the reliability of the claimed methane reductions in doubt and also found that emissions in Alberta’s industry are being underestimated by almost half.

Still, reducing methane emissions has long been on the radar of industry and government. And various companies have worked to plug the data gap, such as Canada’s GHGSat Inc., which has been active in the emissions-detection space since 2016 when it launched a demonstration satellite to monitor greenhouse-gas emissions.

From space, its technology finds and measures emissions at industrial facilities around the world, including oil and gas sites, power plants, landfills and cement works. Companies then used the data to identify and address leaks.

GHGSat’s senior vice-president of strategy, Jean-Francois Gauthier, said technology advances mean industry is increasingly using accurate data instead of best estimates. He also has seen the positive impact that regulations can have.

“When we compare emissions that we see with our satellites in Canada versus the U.S., for example, Canada tends to perform a lot better with even with the regulations that were in place already,” he said in an interview from Dubai on Monday.

However, he cautioned that there is a danger of industry pushback if they perceive regulations as too restrictive or demanding.

Mr. Guilbeault heralded GHGSat’s work at the Dubai climate talks, describing the company’s work as groundbreaking and a “source of national pride.”

Ottawa’s new methane rules were unveiled months later than expected, but make good on the minority Liberal’s 2021 federal election promise to cut the oil and gas sector’s emissions by 75 per cent by the end of the decade. The government, which released an unofficial version of the draft regulations on Monday, will formally publish them in mid-December, Mr. Guilbeault’s office said.

The Environment Minister said the new regulations broaden the scope of activities covered by the regulations, from the point natural gas is extracted to when it enters a pipeline.

“This means that virtually all of Canadian facilities handling natural gas will be covered,” he said.

Mr. Anderson, Mr. Guilbeault’s spokesperson, said the government is consulting with provinces on the new rules and is open to signing equivalency agreements with affected jurisdictions, namely Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.

According to the government documents, the revised regulations are estimated to have an incremental cost of $15.4-billion from 2027 to 2040. The government’s analysis says that the greenhouse-gas emission reductions that will be spurred by the new rules are valued at $27.8-billion, based on an estimate of the “social benefits of avoided global damages.”

Alberta came out swinging against the federal regulations on Monday, with Premier Danielle Smith and Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz calling the revised rules “costly, dangerous and unconstitutional.”

The province has spent $57-million from Alberta’s industrial carbon tax revenues on various methane emissions programs since 2020 to help the oil and gas industry improve monitoring and management. Ottawa should build on Alberta’s approach, not introduce new regulations, Ms. Smith and Ms. Schulz said in a joint statement.

They also slammed the plan to ban flaring, saying it’s a critical health and safety practice, and criticized the federal government for setting unrealistic targets and timelines.

“Infrastructure can only be updated as quickly as technology allows,” they said. “This approach will also cost tens of billions in infrastructure upgrades, yet Ottawa has provided virtually no financial support to do so.”

As part of its announcement, the federal government also said it would launch a Methane Centre of Excellence through a $30-million spend that will focus on emissions tracking and data gathering.

The federal Conservatives did not provide a stance on the stricter methane emissions targets but criticized the government’s approach and urged the Liberals to work with industry. The NDP said it supports the new policy but criticized the government’s slow pace.

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