Is the Canadian oil sands sector’s commitment to reach net zero by 2050 just a bunch of hot air?
It’s no surprise that right after the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance announced $24 billion for emissions reductions by 2030, accusations from long-standing opponents of Canada’s world-class energy sector began rolling in.
The first was an article in the Edmonton Journal suggesting that the oil sands’ commitment to net zero emissions entails nothing but cheap gimmicks based on unproven emission-reduction methods.
Fossil fuel companies are trying to make as much profit as possible, no matter the climate consequences, and leave taxpayers with the cleanup bill.— 350 Canada (@350Canada) October 24, 2022
Great op-ed by @lev_jf on Big Oil's latest greenwashing campaign and how Canadians can call their bluff:https://t.co/21hBOi7szR
These environmentalists can’t handle the fact that Canada’s oil sands sector is making leaps and strides in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, can they? I mean, you’d think they would support Canadians working towards improving environmental impacts while providing a means of living for our families. But that’s just not the case.
In an attempt to dissuade Canadians from supporting responsible Canadian energy, these opponents have once again resorted to misinformation tactics to distort the truth about the oil sands’ track record on GHG reductions.
We are here to clear the air.
Canadian oil sands companies deny climate change is happening.
Environmentalists claim oil sands companies were at one point climate deniers, linking to an American article discussing the trials and tribulations of U.S. congressional house members and multi-national energy majors.
It's dumbfounding to see environmentalists conflate oil sands producers with American oil and gas majors in an attempt to skew their obvious differences in environmental performance.
Nothing could be more dishonest.
If we're going to have a balanced, honest and pragmatic discussion about energy, then we must distinguish between American and Canadian supply sources - like we would for any other product we buy. We should also discuss the differences between heavier and lighter grades, and the particular value of heavy crude.
Canada's oil industry is leaps and bounds ahead of the United States and many other global oil producers in reducing emissions, reducing water use and minimizing land use to name a few. For example :
> Canada consistently ranks the highest among the world's top oil reserve holders, producers and exporters on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) indices. Canada's world-class ESG ratings directly reflect its oil sector, as its major producers fetch top scores vs. global peers, and against many prominent companies in other industries.
> Alberta – home to the oil sands – is one of the few oil-producing jurisdictions with regulated disclosure protocols and carbon tax on production. Government initiatives aim to further refine the quality of these disclosures.
> Gas flaring in Alberta has decreased 57% since 2000 (75% for oil sands), sharply contrasting U.S. practice where flaring in key plays has progressively exceeded limits. Canada is now one of the lowest gas-flaring producers in the world.
> A typical steam-assisted gravity drainage project – the likes of which account for about 50% of oil sands production - requires up to 75% fewer wells over its lifetime than a comparable U.S. tight oil project does, equating to one-fifth of land disturbed.
> With greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions down by roughly 24% since 2012, oil sands now emit just 4-6% more than the global average from production to end-use, and several projects already boast below-average carbon footprints.
> The oil sands industry has invested more than $9.3 billion into research and development since 2009 – notably higher than global majors on a per-barrel basis.
These are just a few facts showing the differences between oil sands production and that elsewhere around the globe.
Anti-Canadian oil and gas activists should know better, or at least be more thorough in their research before making claims that are clearly disputed by the facts.
Canadian oil and gas is the second most polluting in the world.
Once again, the author of this article makes a false claim about Canadian oil and natural gas.
The Rocky Mountain Institute shows there are several more GHG-intensive oil and gas fields worldwide than in Canada. According to its latest Oil Climate Index, Russia, Turkmenistan, Venezuela and others are all home to oil and gas fields with higher emission intensities than Canada .
Additionally, a 2014 report by researchers for California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard found that there are 13 oil fields in the Golden State, plus crudes originating in at least six other countries that generate higher levels of upstream GHG emissions than Canadian dilbit blends .
With no mention of Canada's world-class liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities, it seems that they have also been lumped into this notion that our energy is "the second-dirtiest" by anti-Canadian oil and gas opponents.
The fact is that Canadian-made LNG export facilities are projected to be some of the least-carbon-intensive in the world. LNG Canada, for example, is projected to have an emissions intensity that is less than half of the global average, according to an analysis by the Oxford Energy Institute. Cedar LNG and Woodfibre LNG – two more upcoming projects in British Columbia – are expected to perform with an even lower emissions profile than LNG Canada .
It's clear that Canadian oil and gas is not the "second most polluting in the world." And, we should really go further to differentiate between the methods of production and resulting GHG intensities for the two hydrocarbons as they can vary drastically.
Carbon capture isn't a meaningful way for the oil sands to meaningfully decrease GHG emissions.
Starkly contrasting the author's claims that carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) isn't an effective means to reducing emissions are several reports, business leaders and international organizations saying quite the opposite.
For example, the International Energy Agency (IEA) states that CCUS will play a key role in putting global energy systems on a sustainable trajectory to net zero emissions . Governments must work together with domestic industry and international partners to realize the environmental and economic benefits offered by CCUS. Without it, the world's net zero ambitions will be virtually impossible to reach, according to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.
"Carbon capture is critical for ensuring our transitions to clean energy are secure and sustainable," Birol elaborates, just one of many statements of support for CCUS by the head of the IEA.
Bill Gates has also stressed the importance of CCUS on a pathway to net zero.
"This industry is at the very, very beginning, but it's a necessary piece for the tail of emissions," the billionaire philanthropist said in a recent interview with TED Talks.
According to Gates, CCUS has the potential to sequester "...the final 10 to 15 per cent of emissions..." required to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.
Studies also show the potential for carbon capture to play an instrumental role in reducing GHGs globally – and more specifically, in Canada's oil sands.
According to a 2022 analysis by CIBC Capital Markets, the first phase of CCUS projects in Alberta could reduce oil sands emissions intensity by 14% -- down to 49.8 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per barrel (kgCO2e/Bbl) of production, comparable to the average global upstream intensity of 55 kgCO2e/Bbl.
Additional phases of CCUS deployment could reduce oil sands emissions intensities further, to 30.4 kgCO2e/Bbl, making Canadian oil one of the lowest GHG-intensive feedstocks in the world.
Anti-Canadian energy activists won't admit that Canada's oil sands sector is positioning itself as a go-to supplier of choice for decades to come by investing billions of dollars into emission-reduction initiatives. Why else would they try to discredit oil sands operators, and in the process, undermine the livelihoods of Canadian families supported by the industry?
Canada's oil sands sector is a laggard in reducing methane emissions.
Canada is already global leader in methane emission reductions. Sure, oil sands operators could always do more to fix leaky equipment and improve monitoring, but credit must be given where credit is due. For example:
> Alberta's gas flaring has dropped 57% since 2000 (75% for oil sands), positioning Canada as one of the lowest gas-flaring nations in the world .
> From 2015-2019, Canada decreased its total gas-flaring volumes from oil and gas operations by 42% 
> In 2019, Canada was responsible for just 0.67% of gas flaring volumes from oil and gas operations worldwide . In 2020, that figure increased by less than a tenth of a percentage point, to 0.76% .
>If Canadian oil patch gas flaring rules were applied worldwide, the volume of GHGs emitted from producing the average barrel of oil would drop by 23% .
Additionally, Canada was one of the first countries to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas at the federal level. It is also the first to commit to reducing methane emissions by at least 75% by 2030 over 2012 levels.
We cannot ignore Canada's world-class record on methane emission reductions from oil and gas production. In many instances, Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) members are leading the way in cleantech and innovation to help reduce environmental impacts associated with production.
The oil sands sector isn't interested in meaningful climate solutions.
Yet another claim by anti-Canadian oil sands activists unsubstantiated by the facts.
The Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance's plan to spend $24 billion on emission reductions by 2030 is just one of many efforts in the sector to reduce environmental impacts.
With what we know about the usefulness of CCUS, the $16.5 billion committed by the alliance toward a massive network of carbon capture and storage infrastructure is a good step forward in living up to its net zero commitments.
COSIA, for example, is a group of oil sands producers focused on accelerating environmental performance through collaborative action. Unique to the world, the conglomerate of competing energy producers share research and innovation with the common goal of reducing water usage, emissions, land use and improving on other operational procedures that affect the environment.
At any given time, COSIA has hundreds of research projects underway looking at ways to advance cleantech in the oil sands.
COSIA's very existence is proof that the oil sands industry is more than committed to taking climate action through meaningful solutions such as research and development, cleantech and innovation and carbon capture and storage.
Where else in the world are you going to find competing entities sharing resources and intellectual property in the name of protecting the environment?
Let's be honest about that.
The World Needs More Canadian Energy
The facts presented above make it clear that the Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero Alliance's $24 billion commitment to reducing emissions is anything but hot air like opponents would have us believe.
With energy shortages, growing energy demand and energy security concerns happening around the world, it's crucial that we have balanced, honest and pragmatic discussions about the role Canadian energy can play on global markets.
The IEA's latest 2022 World Energy Outlook shows the world is going to need oil and gas for decades to come. Would you choose to source your energy from stable and reliable suppliers like Canada, or from producers with often little to no transparency in government and fewer protections for human rights and the environment?
If you value and support equality, freedom and other underlying principles of democracy, the choice is abundantly clear.
“Climate activists” calling for an end to a natural gas pipeline in British Columbia which will help lower global emissions, threw maple syrup on an Emily Carr painting and glued themselves to the wall at the Vancouver Art Gallery Saturday https://t.co/kkINoavPz6— Canada Action (@CanadaAction) November 13, 2022
1 – BMO Capital Markets - A 400 billion barrel opportunity for friendly oil: Canada's opportunity, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://research-ca.bmocapitalmarkets.com/documents/140A6529-CE63-4B90-A627-06768A001783.PDF)
2 – Rocky Mountain Institute, Oil Climate Index plus Gas – Analyzing Oil and Gas Emissions, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://ociplus.rmi.org/analysis)
3 – iPolitics – How clean is our 'dirty' oil? You'd be surprised., Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://www.ipolitics.ca/news/how-clean-is-our-dirty-oil-youd-be-surprised)
4 – SaskToday – Opinion: Why Canada will have the world's cleanest LNG, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://www.sasktoday.ca/north/opinion/opinion-why-canada-will-have-the-worlds-cleanest-lng-5387056)
5 – International Energy Agency – Energy Technology Perspectives 2022, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/181b48b4-323f-454d-96fb-0bb1889d96a9/CCUS_in_clean_energy_transitions.pdf)
6 – World Bank – Global Gas Flaring Tracker Report (2020), Date Accessed: October 2022 (http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/503141595343850009/WB-GGFR-Report-July2020.pdf)
7 – World Bank – Global Gas Flaring Tracker 2022, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/extractiveindustries/publication/2022-global-gas-flaring-tracker-report)
8 – CBC – Canadian oilpatch rules could cut global emissions study concludes, Date Accessed: October 2022 (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/university-calgary-science-greenhouse-gas-oilpatch-emissions-climate-change-regulations-1.4809956)
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