The Trudeau government faced immediate criticism yesterday after re-announcing a four-year, C$100-million budget promise from March 2019 to help the fossil industry commercialize emerging technologies.
The funds will go to the Clean Resource Innovation Network (CRIN), a consortium of 1,700 companies, non-profits, government departments and agencies, researchers, academic institutions, and economic development agencies. CRIN President Joy Romero, who’s also a vice-president at Alberta tar sands/oil sands producer Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., said $80 million out of the federal grant will be devoted to three technology challenges for “high-impact projects with clear paths to commercialization.” The rest will be spent on administration, management, and what the federal government is calling “clean technology ecosystems”.
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The technology competitions “are aimed at creating alternative value-added products, reducing environmental footprints, and exploring new digital solutions for the oilpatch,” BNN Bloomberg writes. “For example, rather than combusting bitumen, generating carbon fibres to create stronger cement and lighter car bodies,” Romero said on a conference call. “There’s also the option to convert greenhouse gases to valuable products like hand sanitizer and soap, our two most basic weapons in the fight to flatten the COVID-19 curve.” [We’re still going to be fighting to flatten the COVID-19 curve in the time it will take CRIN to organize a technology challenge, and for the lucky winners to deliver usable products?—Ed.]
In a release, Ottawa cast the announcement as part of its Innovation and Skills Plan, saying the funds are meant to reduce fossil industry emissions by 100 megatonnes by 2033 and “accelerate the development and adoption of innovative technologies and processes that seek to lower the oil and gas industry’s environmental impacts. By developing groundbreaking cleantech and emission-lowering solutions through collaboration, CRIN will support economic growth and create good, well-paying jobs, with cleaner energy from source to end use as the result.”
But Julia Levin, climate and energy program manager at Toronto-based Environmental Defence, said the government is setting taxpayers up to fund projects the industry should be paying for on its own.
“Looking over the lists of themes, all of these are ways to save oil and gas companies money, and things they should be paying out for their own pockets—not the pockets of taxpayers,” she told The Energy Mix in an email. When the subsidy was first announced in the 2019 budget, “our reaction was to point out the hypocrisy in the government’s reaffirmed commitment to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies (a commitment first made in 2009), and then offer new handouts. We also noted that this type of funding in the past has failed to deliver concrete and significant GHG reductions from the sector.”
The “tech themes” CRIN lists on its website seems to reinforce Levin’s point: they include reducing the carbon intensity of fuels, digital oil and gas technology, low-emissions value-added products, novel hydrocarbon expansion, new approaches to land and wellsite cleanups, methane controls, and water technology development.
“Using limited public resources to achieve outcomes (like reduced GHG emissions) that could be better achieved through regulatory means is a poor use of public funds,” Levin said, “and is still a transfer of public funds to private oil and gas companies.”
Greenpeace Canada Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart agreed the money would be better spent on renewable energy projects. “Calling it cleantech can’t hide the fact that this is still about expanding oil production at a time when we need to be putting people to work on real climate solutions,” he told BNN Bloomberg.