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OTTAWA — Some common government and industry assumptions about the role of natural gas in combating climate change do not hold up to scrutiny, according to an in-depth study released today by the David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute.
In the report, "Is natural gas a climate change solution for Canada?" author Matthew Bramley concludes that, although natural gas contains less carbon than other fossil fuels, fighting climate change requires slower, not faster addition of new natural gas production capacity. The report also concludes that governments in Canada must take much greater care before giving the green light to the development of unconventional resources such as shale gas.
"Economic modelling consistently shows that efficient policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will lead to less natural gas than under business as usual — even in the near term," said Bramley, director of research for the Pembina Institute. "The evidence is strong that Canada should be focusing not on natural gas but on zero-emission solutions, such as renewable energy."
Canada is the world's third largest producer of natural gas. Although overall production has recently been declining, new sources and methods for exploiting "unconventional" natural gas reserves, such as shale gas, have led industry and government officials to argue that gas could play a role as a "bridging" fuel to kick-start near-term reductions in the greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.
"Shale gas requires up to 100 times the number of well pads to extract the same amount of gas as conventional sources, and recent shale gas development in the U.S. has had major environmental impacts," said Dale Marshall, climate change policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. "Expanded natural gas production in Canada would bring a host of problems — as well as making it harder to fight climate change."
The report makes a number of recommendations, including:
- requiring new natural gas processing plants to capture and store carbon dioxide;
- strengthening government regulations to minimize the impacts on air, water and soil from natural gas operations;
- improving environmental assessment and governance processes; and
- requiring producers to publicly disclose the chemical composition of the fluids used in fracturing ("fracking") of unconventional gas wells.
The report also calls for provincial governments to extend normal environmental assessment requirements to natural gas development, since most natural gas wells in Canada currently are exempted from such processes. "There is no compelling reason why gas development should be exempted from standards of assessment that governments deem to be necessary for other kinds of industrial development," the report states.
"Clearly, the way forward is for governments to focus on policies to conserve energy and to shift to renewable energy technologies with fewer environmental impacts," said Ian Bruce, climate change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation.
Reiterating a consensus among environmentalists, industry and academics, the report states that fighting climate change requires above all "an economy-wide price on greenhouse gas emissions covering as many sources as practical, implemented as soon as possible and established by cap-and-trade systems, carbon taxes or both."
Read a Q&A interview about the report with author Matthew Bramley on the Pembina Institute blog.
Julia Kilpatrick, Media manager, the Pembina Institute
Ian Hanington, Communications specialist, David Suzuki Foundation
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