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Building and running a comprehensive monitoring program for the oilsands that keeps pace with the rapid growth of the industry is very challenging — especially considering how huge the industry is already. Oilsands development currently produces 61 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution, consumes 185 billion litres of freshwater annually and has directly transformed more land area than the entire city of Calgary.
Aug. 25, 2014 Air quality data to Government of Alberta: your move
The Government of Alberta reported this month that air quality in areas near oilsands development in Northern Alberta was recorded as exceeding warning levels in 2012. While investments in air quality monitoring are beginning to pay off, this data will place a new Premier in a difficult position.
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.
July 10, 2014 Making sense of fossil fuel subsidies
In 2009, Canada committed to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies along with the other member states of the G20. But five years later, Canadian taxpayers continue to subsidize a sector that is both profitable and well established. As our latest report explains, the financial support Canada gives the oil sector is unnecessary given the favourable economic reality that sector currently faces.
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?
July 4, 2014 B.C. Climate Action Plan 2.0?
In case you weren’t poring over government news releases on the Monday before Canada Day, you might have missed B.C.’s 2014 Climate Progress Report. While it has some controversial elements, it’s predominantly positive news that merits attention.
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 Big shiny trends: Canada’s new emissions numbers
Every year, industrialized countries publish their national inventories of carbon pollution. Canada’s vast and detailed report, meticulously assembled by Environment Canada, gives us a thorough picture of where our greenhouse gas emissions come from, and how they have changed since 1990. We check in on three key stories in the 2014 inventory report.
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.
Feb. 20, 2014 Piecing together B.C.’s LNG fiscal framework
Tuesday’s B.C. budget unveiled the first substantive information on the province’s promised liquefied natural gas tax. While the budget did provide some welcome clarity, many questions remain unanswered — most importantly how much money will be collected from a given amount of exported LNG. Here’s a look at some of the province’s bigger fiscal pieces that will apply to the LNG supply chain in B.C. if any projects do proceed.
Pembina has published a new report about the potential climate impacts associated with the proposed Energy East pipeline. Our research shows that producing the crude required to fill the pipeline would significantly increase Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and make it even more difficult to meet our climate targets.
Jan. 15, 2014 More trouble with 2030
The federal government quietly released a new emissions report over the holidays. It projects a significant and sustained rise in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions unless we dramatically improve our climate policies. This post explores some of the other significant stories found in that report, particularly at the provincial level.
Jan. 10, 2014 B.C.’s LNG quiz doesn’t make the grade
If you’re like me, you worry that British Columbia’s government is rushing its pursuit of liquefied natural gas development without taking the time to think through and manage the consequences, both social and environmental. The province’s new LNG awareness quiz doesn’t ease those concerns.
Jan. 10, 2014 The trouble with 2030
Think Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions look bad today? Unfortunately, 2030 doesn’t look any rosier. In October, Environment Canada published projections estimating that current policies will see Canada miss the Harper government’s 2020 emissions target by 122 million tonnes. Now a new report offers us a glimpse of where Canada’s emissions are headed after 2020, adding projections for the next decade.
Jan. 7, 2014 Ottawa’s oil and gas sitcom
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any slower, Ottawa has yet another rationale for delaying greenhouse gas regulations for oil and gas companies. Worryingly, this one comes straight from the top.
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.
Earlier this year, Natural Resources Canada commissioned a study to evaluate aspects of the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive. Canada has been lobbying very aggressively against the FQD, since fuels derived from natural bitumen (oilsands) would be assigned a higher carbon intensity value than those derived from conventional crudes.
The report was released on Wednesday but, despite the government's rhetoric, it offers nothing to discredit the directive. Rather, its findings seem to generally reinforce the defensibility of the Commission’s proposed approach.
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.
It’s not often we see international praise for climate change policy in Canada, but that’s exactly what the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) did in a recent report, highlighting British Columbia’s carbon tax as a leading example of carbon pricing.
Oct. 11, 2013 Unfortunate approval of Fortune Creek gas processing plant highlights flaws in B.C.’s LNG plan
The B.C. government has approved the construction of a new gas processing plant north of Fort Nelson. The news release heralding its approval doesn’t mention liquefied natural gas (LNG) but — make no mistake — this plant is being proposed to feed the demand for additional natural gas from any liquefaction facilities in northwest B.C., if they are constructed.
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.
Sept. 30, 2013 Joint climate action for Keystone fails to persuade
It’s been a few weeks since news broke that Stephen Harper had written to Barack Obama about the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, offering “joint action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector” in exchange for his approval of the project.
So far there is little evidence that the Obama Administration is interested in accepting Harper’s offer. If Harper did fail to catch Obama’s interest with his letter, it’s worth asking why.
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. 8, 2013 Trust us? Canada's climate credibility challenge
Canada has a credibility problem. As U.S. President Barack Obama implements his new climate plan and considers the proposed Keystone XL pipeline's emissions, Ottawa hopes to convince him that we're suddenly serious about fighting climate change. Our record is plain to see, and so far it plainly shows the opposite.
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.
July 26, 2013 Despite carbon tax, sky isn’t falling in B.C.
An article by the Brookings Institution earlier this year said it best: “Want a pro-growth pro-environment plan? Economists agree: tax carbon.” Now a new study of B.C.’s carbon tax is adding further valuable evidence in support of the carbon tax as a smart and effective policy for curbing emissions and driving innovation.
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.”
Draft regulations tabled by the federal government would keep in situ oilsands development off the list of projects that require federal environmental assessment. By doing so, Ottawa is officially writing itself out of the process that would enable it to responsibly reduce the impacts of oilsands expansion before they occur.
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 12, 2013 What Minister Oliver didn’t read
Canada’s Natural Resources minister, Joe Oliver, recently shared his views on climate change and energy with La Presse. The Minister is quoted that he did not read the climate change section of the IEA report or their warning about locking into a path to dangerous climate change. To hopefully inform his next briefing, I’ve summarized the two scenarios below.
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