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July 10, 2014 Auditor General’s scathing review ups pressure to improve Alberta’s weak climate policy
This week, the Alberta Auditor General released the scathing results of his review of the province’s climate change strategy. Despite recommendations from two previous audits, the report found the government still lacks a definitive plan to meet its climate targets and to report progress.
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) has come as close as it likely ever will to admitting that the design of the Primrose Cyclic Steam Stimulation project has failed, and that this failure led to the four bitumen and steam emulsion blowouts that were discovered several kilometres apart just over one year ago.
July 7, 2014 Future-proofing the oil and gas sector
Energy companies are doubling down on oil, even as the likelihood of government action on climate change has never been higher. If local leaders like Cenovus are getting out of the renewables game, what does that mean for the oil and gas sector’s ability to proactively adapt to a carbon-constrained world?
June 6, 2014 The costs of losing social licence
The degree to which Canadians and others will grant social licence to resource development proposals and proponents will largely hinge on whether — and how — industry and governments choose to implement these solutions to environmental performance and carbon emissions.
The Obama administration unveiled its significant plans to tackle carbon pollution from coal-fired electricity generation this week. Those plans include a commitment to reduce electricity emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, and strong targets for near-term reductions by 2020.
April 17, 2014 Getting back in gear: oilsands climate performance
Oilsands emission performance doesn’t have to stay stuck in neutral. The roadmap to lower emissions intensity in oilsands is becoming apparent. But for that to become a reality, we need a policy framework that makes sure the cleanest technologies are also the smartest investment.
April 16, 2014 Oilsands talking point collides with reality
Proponents of oilsands expansion often repeat that missions per barrel have been reduced by 26 per cent between 1990 and 2011. The message implies that things are getting better all the time. Given the scale of oilsands expansion planned for the coming decades, it’s worth venturing past the talking point to better understand these emissions intensity improvements and whether or not they will continue.
Last month, scientists from Environment Canada released a study citing research that estimated the rate at which tailings water is likely seeping from one lake (and into groundwater systems hydraulically connected to the Athabasca River). The research cited determined that rate to be 6.5 million litres per day. We discuss the study research in the context of oilsands expansion and how governments should respond to this information.
Next week, an important piece of legislation will continue through its third reading in the Alberta legislature. Bill 31, the protecting Alberta’s environment act, would establish the Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) to obtain relevant scientific data and information regarding the condition of the environment in Alberta.
While the bill is essential to establish an independent monitoring agency — a goal we support — the proposed legislation has some basic flaws. Even more concerning, the government has been surprisingly closed-minded in responding to amendments proposed in the legislature that would enhance the bill.
Nov. 8, 2013 Documents raise concern over industry influence on delayed oilsands emissions regulations
This week, the Pembina Institute reviewed a package of documents obtained under Alberta’s Freedom of Information legislation about future Alberta and federal greenhouse gas regulations.
Oct. 31, 2013 Rapid innovation in the oilsands: a worthy challenge
“History repeating itself” isn’t typically a positive expression. It usually refers to a series of errors or oversights typically resulting from leaders failing to learn from past efforts. It is with this in mind that Alberta’s forthcoming innovation plans will want to avoid past mistakes and repeat what Alberta has done well.
Oct. 29, 2013 Trending Bad: What Environment Canada's latest climate report says about Canada's carbon pollution
Last week, Environment Canada released its annual Emissions Trends report, projecting the path of Canada’s climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions. This blog looks at what the report says and why it matters.
In a drastic move to contain an on-going and unstoppable bitumen blowout in Cold Lake, Alberta, the province’s department of environment has ordered Canadian Natural Resource Ltd. to drain two thirds of a 53-hectare lake. According to CNRL, some of the removed water will be stored in the remaining one third of the lake, with the rest piped to a nearby pit and wetland.
After eight years of deliberation, Alberta has essentially handed industry a free pass when it comes to compensating for the loss of wetlands in the oilsands region. Given the pressure the government is under to show its environmental scruples these days, you’d think it would have seized this opportunity. Instead, the policy gave the oilsands industry at least a two-year exemption from taking any responsibility for wetlands.
Sept. 10, 2013 Setting the record straight on Pembina’s consulting work
Judging from the many conversations that unfolded on Twitter over the past few days, there appears to be a lot of confusion around how fee-for-service consulting works and why an organization like the Pembina Institute is committed to producing some of the best sustainability consulting services in the business. As our clients know, our consulting work is one of various approaches that support our mandate — to lead Canada’s transition to a clean energy future.
Aug. 7, 2013 What’s really happening at the CNRL blowout site?
Executives at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) said little about an ongoing blowout at an underground oilsands extraction site until late last week, when the company held a conference call for investors and analysts, claiming it had identified the cause of the problem and the situation was under control. Yet, in that conference call, CNRL also confirmed that bitumen emulsion — a mixture of oilsands and water — is still escaping from the Clearwater formation 500 metres underground and following an unknown pathway to the surface where it is leaking out of the ground in four distinct locations at a rate of up to 20 barrels a day.
A slow-motion disaster has been unfolding for months at an oilsands extraction site a few hours north of Edmonton. Provincial authorities and media reports have called it a series of “releases” or “spills”, but a more accurate description would be another uncontrolled — and so far unstoppable — blowout in the oilsands reservoir deep underground.
No other province in Canada has a longer history with wind energy than Alberta, which has 20 years of experience with utility-scale wind farms. Yet, unlike some parts of the country, we don’t tend to hear much about it. So we set out to discover what sorts of complaints officials in Alberta have received about wind energy projects from nearby residents.
July 24, 2013 Setting a clean electricity standard in Alberta
Alberta could implement a clean electricity standard that would create market-based incentives to encourage energy technologies with lower emissions than the current coal-powered system. A recent forum brought thought leaders together to discuss this opportunity.
While Calgary celebrates its resilience at a “Hell or High Water” Stampede, Toronto is drying out after a dramatic storm that saw more rain fall in two hours than the city usually sees in the entire month of July.
Even if you don’t live in Southern Alberta or Mississauga, floods are fodder for dinner table conversations across the country right now. And more and more Canadians are asking whether what we’re seeing is climate change.
Earlier today, the Government of Alberta launched a new “streamlined” regulator for energy projects in the province. While proponents say the move is an “exciting change” that will usher in “a new era” for energy regulation in Alberta, critics have compared the new single regulator to Frankenstein’s monster, arguing that the government is “building a new creature from old bones.”
May 23, 2013 Moving oilsands to market — by pipeline or rail?
Earlier this week, five CP Rail tank cars jumped the tracks just outside of Jansen, Saskatchewan, spilling more than 91,000 litres of crude oil. Last month, a similar derailment near White River, Ontario, resulted in a 63,000-litre oil spill.
While these trains were not carrying bitumen from the oilsands, it’s becoming increasingly common to move oilsands by rail, particularly as public opposition to various new pipeline proposals continues to grow and oilsands producers seek other shipping options.
May 14, 2013 Scientists offer much-needed reality check on climate implications of Ottawa’s resource agenda
As other countries face up to the climate challenge and begin curbing their demand for fossil fuels, will Canada be left waiting on the shore for tankers that will never come?
April 18, 2013 Tales from the National Inventory: a look at Canada’s latest greenhouse gas emissions report
Each spring, as the tulips are starting to bloom in Ottawa, Environment Canada releases its annual compendium of greenhouse gas emissions data. Here are three stories that emerged from our first look at the report.
April 9, 2013 Albertans don’t just pay to ride the resource rollercoaster — they risk having to clean up once the carnival leaves town
There’s a carnival in town, and everyone is talking about its main attraction — the mighty resource rollercoaster that is taking Alberta’s and Canada’s economies for a wild ride. Albertans are already paying a premium at the ticket booth, but few have noticed the fine print on the bottom of the receipt: once the carnival leaves town, ticketholders may be left paying for the cleanup costs.
April 5, 2013 How carbon pricing currently works in Alberta
In Alberta’s current carbon pricing system, called the Specified Gas Emitters Regulation (SGER), major industrial facilities must reduce their “emissions intensity” (i.e. emissions per unit of production) by up to 12 per cent, relative to their typical performance or “baseline” level. The target phases in over time, reaching the full 12 per cent requirement in a facility’s ninth year of operation, and remains at 12 per cent after that.
News broke this week that Alberta is considering strengthening greenhouse gas regulations on the province’s energy industry. The so-called “40/40” plan proposed by the Environment Minister Diana McQueen would increase Alberta’s intensity-based emissions target and its carbon price. The very mention of such a move has kicked off a long-overdue conversation about what it’s going to take to curtail greenhouse gas pollution and develop Alberta’s resources responsibly.
With consideration of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal heading into the home stretch, a parade of Canadian politicians have been making the trek to the U.S. to try to convince the Obama Administration of the pipeline’s merits.
The good news is that the recent visitors — from Premiers Redford and Wall to federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver — now acknowledge that Canada’s environmental record is crucial to the upcoming U.S. decision.
The bad news is that there are some gaping holes in that record.
March 7, 2013 While Ottawa claims environmental leadership, legal group calls for investigation into oilsands pollution
On the same day that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver assured the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that “Canada is a global environmental leader … and yes, that includes the oilsands,” the reputable and independent legal group Ecojustice released a report calling for a full federal investigation to determine if oilsands operators are in violation of the Fisheries Act.
March 5, 2013 Draft U.S. environmental assessment understates significance of Keystone XL for oilsands expansion and climate emissions
Late last Friday, the U.S. State Department released its draft assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s environmental impacts, marking a significant milestone toward the impending White House decision on the project’s fate.
Feb. 22, 2013 Who’s really winning the race to end coal? A comparison of Canada and U.S. federal regulations
Sadly, Canada isn’t the shining example of coal-curbing excellence that Harper’s ministers are claiming. When it comes to regulating greenhouse gases from coal power, we’re doing about the same as our neighbours to the South — and may well be eclipsed before too long. As for “getting out of the dirty coal electricity generation business,” Canada won’t be fulfilling that commitment until 2062.
Feb. 19, 2013 Top clean energy opportunities for Canada in 2013
I asked four of Pembina’s directors what clean energy opportunities 2013 might have in store. Here’s what they had to say.
Jan. 17, 2013 Climate concerns are key in Keystone XL pipeline debate
To help inform the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, the Pembina Institute has produced a backgrounder about the climate impacts associated with the proposed pipeline. The backgrounder features new analysis showing that producing enough bitumen to fill the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and inhibit Canada’s ability to meet its climate targets.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” Though originally written as a social criticism of the period leading up to the French Revolution, Charles Dickens’ words seem an equally appropriate characterization of the past year for energy and environment issues in Canada.
Last week I testified at the joint review panel hearings into Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in Prince George, B.C. It was my second time in front of the panel presenting research, on behalf of the environmental group ForestEthics Advocacy, that the Pembina Institute had conducted on the proposed pipeline and tanker project.
Historically speaking, Canadian energy issues haven’t always played as prominently on the global stage as they do today. In 2006, the oilsands were just an emerging story, known principally to investors on the hunt for returns (although Pembina has been working on oilsands issues since the mid-1980s). It took Ralph Klein, then-premier of Alberta, parking an oilsands heavy hauler within eyesight of the U.S. Congress for the broader environmental community to get well and truly fired up over oilsands development. Within a few short years, Canada’s bitumen mines would be making front-page headlines worldwide.
Canada’s financial sector appears to be enjoying its own ‘mine truck’ moment.
Today marks a landmark shift in opposition to continued expansion of oilsands development, with the start of a hearing into the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation’s (ACFN) constitutional challenge against Shell Canada’s application to expand the Jackpine Mine oilsands project. The first of its kind in Alberta, the constitutional challenge is based in part on concerns that Shell’s project will impact the ACFN’s ability to exercise treaty rights such as hunting and fishing in a meaningful way into the future.
Late on the Friday before the Thanksgiving long weekend, after many workers in the Eastern time zone had already called it a day, the federal government finally released its long overdue recovery strategy for the woodland caribou, the boreal population that ranges from Yukon to Newfoundland. Herds living in northern Alberta are currently listed as ‘threatened’ populations under the Species at Risk Act.
July 20, 2012 First Nation proposal to protect caribou shows balanced approach to oilsands development possible
Last week, without much fanfare, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) — a small First Nation based in Fort Chipewyan located downstream from the oilsands — released a report entitled Níh boghodi: We are the stewards of our land. It is an impressive land-use planning proposal for co-management of a vast area of northeastern Alberta that outlines a balanced approach to support conservation of woodland caribou and wood bison while still supporting responsible industrial development on ACFN’s traditional territories.
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