Alberta’s Oil Sands Advisory Group (OSAG) has published a roadmap for tar sands/oil sands operators to divide up the remaining space in the province’s legislated emissions cap of 100 megatonnes per year, then begin ratcheting back the gap through mid-century to help Canada achieve its broader climate targets.
“One set of recommendations targets the period before the [carbon] budget begins to get scarce,” explains pro-fossil Financial Post columnist Claudia Cattaneo. “It includes encouraging new technologies, being more transparent about emissions management plans, changing regulations.”
But the industry is still expected to hit the emissions cap in the next decade, if not sooner. When that carbon budget starts to run out, “that’s when measures would get heavy-handed,” Cattaneo writes. “Construction of new projects would be stopped and existing projects with higher intensity would be constrained.”
When Alberta tabled legislation last year to enforce the 100-Mt cap, the Globe and Mail noted that it would still allow the province’s tar sands/oil sands emissions to increase 50% through 2030, to account for one-fifth of the country’s carbon budget. But Cattaneo still sees the OSAG report as an imposition on industry.
“It’s hard to see how the punishing carbon diet proposed will motivate growth in an industry already beset by so many challenges that many operators are cashing out and flocking to competing jurisdictions,” she writes. “If the investment flight continues, it’s a good indication it’s unrealistic to expect one sector of Canada’s economy to bear such a big burden for the right to earn passage for its product.”
“Success is to never have to worry about reaching the limit,” countered OSAG Co-Chair Dave Collyer, a former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, who led the group along with veteran climate hawk Tzeporah Berman and Melody Lepine, a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation. The industry is staking its future on the hope that it can simultaneously increase production and reduce production emissions, an approach that is seen as favouring the largest operators in the tar sands/oil sands over smaller companies.
“In the world that we are in,” Collyer told reporters, “it’s going to be more and more important that we are environmentally competitive, and the best way to not leave oil in the ground is to always be improving our performance and innovating.”
Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said she was “very, very pleased that a diverse group of people, diverse voices on the oilsands advisory group, were able to provide us consensus advice around a very difficult topic” via the OSAG report. “Our approach is one of partnership,” she added, “of not shouting anyone out of the room who had concerns about climate policies. Our approach is working.”
Cattaneo noted, however, that Berman and Stand.earth National Director Karen Mahon are stepping down from the advisory group before it enters its next phase of work.