Carbon pollution from Alberta’s oil and gas industry is continuing to rise, notwithstanding Premier Jason Kenney’s insistence that his province’s product is the cleanest, most ethically-produced in the world.
Kenney repeated that claim last week when Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, announced it had sold off its Alberta Government bonds because of the province’s high carbon intensity. But Star Calgary says the emissions inventory maintained by Environment and Climate Change Canada backs Riksbank up. While the industry’s emissions per unit of production fell 15% between 2010 and 2016, that output grew 145% from 2005 to 2016.
The net result: a 32-million-tonne increase in emissions from the country’s mining and upstream oil and gas sector.
“It is true that there’s been huge progress in reducing the carbon intensity of mining bitumen and other processes of extraction,” said finance professor Yrjö Koskinen of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. “But overall, climate emissions are still going up.”
Pembina Institute Senior Policy Analyst Benjamin Israel acknowledged the industry’s reductions in carbon intensity over the last several decades, but noted that it still takes a lot of carbon emissions to get tar sands/oil sands crude to a point where it can be used. “At the end of the day, we produce heavy oil,” he told Star Calgary. “There’s no way around that.”
While newer tar sands/oil sands projects have achieved “noteworthy” emissions reductions, he added, most of the sector is still more carbon-intensive.
Israel pointed to tailing ponds as an example of the industry’s impact on local communities and the environment. “The first regulations governing the water formations filled with clay, toxic waste, metals, and leftover bitumen came into effect in 2015,” Star Calgary notes, meaning that no regulations were in place for nearly 50 years.
Star Calgary also cites a series of recent airborne tests over the Athabasca tar sands/oil sands, reported in the journal Nature, that showed the industry failing to account for about 17 megatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year, about the output of a city like Toronto or Seattle.
“The way the study’s authors tested for CO2 emissions is very different from how oil companies track their emissions: a combination of sensors in the stacks of major oil facilities and United Nations-accepted calculations for fuel consumption,” Star Calgary writes. “In response, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a lobby group for the oil and gas industry, defended the industry’s practices.”