Ottawa finalizes methane reduction deals with Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The federal government has finalized deals with three provinces to reduce emissions of a potent greenhouse gas, saying methane proposals from Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia will achieve the same cuts as rules suggested by Ottawa.

But environmental groups point to Environment Canada's own data showing neither provincial nor federal regulations will meet Canada's targets.

"The federal and provincial regulations are equivalent, but they're both way too weak," Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence said Thursday.

As part of its climate strategy, the federal government said in 2016 that it would reduce methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2025. Methane, much of which is emitted by oil and gas facilities, is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in climate change.

Ottawa drew up regulations to reduce those emissions, but said it would accept provincial plans if they met the same target. On Thursday, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson gave the OK to the three provincial proposals.

"These efforts lay the groundwork for the next steps we need to take as a country to exceed our 2030 climate target," he said in a release.

His Alberta counterpart, Jason Nixon, said the agreements achieve national goals while preserving provincial control.

"It will cut the same amount of emissions as the federal system, with the added benefit of cost savings for our industry and maintaining jurisdiction over policies that will impact our ability to develop our natural resources," he said at an industry forum on methane reduction. 

But Marshall and Jan Gorski from the Pembina Institute said Environment Canada's own research suggests neither framework will meet the 45 per cent target. 

A 2018 federally commissioned study found models used to assess methane emissions weren't looking at the right sources. 

"(Methane) is coming from different places," said Gorski. "That affects the impact of regulations."

The real reduction, he said, is likely to be about 29 per cent — a figure Wilkinson hasn't disputed. 

Nixon did not take questions and Wilkinson was not available for comment.

Environment Canada staff have said regulations could be tightened if the target isn't being reached. The deal announced Thursday has a five-year term.

Willkinson also recently announced a $750-million loan program to help companies reduce methane emissions. The Alberta government has provided $750 million from the province's industrial carbon levy to help companies meet reduction targets. 

Marshall said underperforming on methane is a lost opportunity. 

"These emissions are some of the cheapest emissions Canada has," he said. 

Not only is the technology to detect and seal off methane widely available, the gas can be sold. Marshall said methane emissions can be cut for about $10 a tonne — a third of their cost in carbon taxes.

Missing the chance to cut as much methane as possible means more greenhouse gases will have to be cut elsewhere in the economy if Canada is to meet its Paris agreement targets, Marshall said.  

"There's so many reasons to do this right. For the federal government to be failing to achieve the commitment that they made four years ago is really disappointing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 5, 2020.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter.

The Canadian Press