The Canadian government is earning applause from major environmental groups, but may be on the road to a conflict with Alberta, after unveiling its final regulations to control methane emissions from the country’s oil and gas sector.
The federal rules, released Wednesday, “would require oil companies to inspect virtually all their field equipment for methane leaks three times a year, repair all leaks, and dramatically reduce their ability to vent the gas into the atmosphere,” the Globe and Mail reports. A day earlier, Alberta unveiled regulations that “would require annual inspections and would allow companies to manage their emissions by focusing on the most likely problem areas, and would set easier standards for venting.”
Methane specialists at the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund said the regulation would save 232 megatonnes of emissions and $11.6 billion in forecast environmental impacts, iPolitics reports.
Federal officials say their regulations will supersede Alberta’s unless the province shows it can achieve the same emission reductions, and Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig Boyd is making precisely that pitch. “We’re confident our efforts will achieve equivalency with the federal government’s requirements, but with lower cost and more flexibility for industry,” said spokesperson Michael McKinnon.
But Drew Nelson, a methane specialist from the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund, said that’s unlikely.
“Alberta’s proposal is not credible and is nowhere close to equivalent to federal regulations, because there is no way to confirm operators’ claims of compliance with site-level regulations,” Nelson told the Globe. “Alberta’s regulatory proposal is like a get-out-of-jail card for industry. Federal action will be undermined if they give this false equivalency.”
EDF President Fred Krupp called the federal regulations “a sign of international climate leadership and further evidence that global momentum is building to reduce this powerful pollutant.” While “methane emissions are an urgent climate problem,” he added, “there are many low-cost, simple fixes that can deliver meaningful and immediate reductions today from the oil and gas industry, in Canada and around the world.”
Ian Bruce, science and policy director at the David Suzuki Foundation, called the federal announcement “a critical solution in Canada’s national climate plan.” He said the federal rules create “a clear responsibility” for the country’s oil and gas sector “to be a stronger partner, joining citizens and communities that are already working hard to reach our country’s climate targets.”
But Krupp cautioned that a “big step forward could be erased, if these federal methane regulations are replaced by weaker provincial action. The national government must now ensure that any provincial rules achieve equal or greater reductions.”
Alberta and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) have been arguing for a “site-based” approach to methane monitoring that they say will allow companies to focus their efforts where they’ll have the greatest impact, rather than monitoring every piece of equipment. CAPP had also directly threatened about 7,000 job losses if Ottawa didn’t accept its version of a methane reduction plan.
CAPP claimed its approach would “achieve 70% of the reductions [that Ottawa seeks] at one-third the cost,” The Canadian Press reported at the time. But the national fossil lobby didn’t explain how its members would identify high-risk operations without doing the site-by-site monitoring Ottawa is now insisting on. An aerial survey last year revealed that existing industry estimates of methane emissions from its operations were severely understated.
“We are nowhere near having the measurement and reporting tools needed to make [CAPP’s plan] a credible option,” said the Pembina Institute’s Duncan Kenyon said last fall. “The inherent problem with methane is that it likes to leak, and will leak wherever it can find a weakness.”
This story was updated to include EDF’s estimate of emissions and dollar savings.