Sask. carbon capture not meeting targets, prolonging reliance on fossil fuels: U of R professor

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The carbon capture project at SaskPower's Boundary Dam isn't meeting targets of 90 per cent carbon capture, according to University of Regina professor Emily Eaton. (Michael Bell/Canadian Press - image credit)
The carbon capture project at SaskPower's Boundary Dam isn't meeting targets of 90 per cent carbon capture, according to University of Regina professor Emily Eaton. (Michael Bell/Canadian Press - image credit)

A University of Regina professor is challenging Premier Scott Moe's claims that the province has the most sustainable energy sector in the world.

Emily Eaton, a professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Regina, said that contrary to Moe's recent claims, Saskatchewan's fossil-fuel industry is a major polluter.

"Saskatchewan has the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in Canada and some of the highest across the whole world," Eaton told CBC's The Morning Edition.

"And it is largely a result of our oil and gas industry. Thirty per cent of Saskatchewan's greenhouse gases come from that single industry."

LISTEN | Emily Eaton spoke with host Ted Deller on The Morning Edition

Speaking to a crowd of supporters at a Sask Party convention this past weekend, Moe said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should be promoting Saskatchewan's sustainable energy to countries attending the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

"If everyone else in the world produced their energy the same way we did here in Saskatchewan ...global emissions in oil production would drop by 25 per cent overnight."

A spokesperson for Moe said he was referring to a 2018 University of Calgary study that said adopting Canada's standards and regulations would cut emissions globally by one quarter.

According to the Government of Canada, Saskatchewan produced 74.8 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, up 10 per cent from 2005.

Carbon capture just prolongs reliance on oil: scientist

Eaton said that Saskatchewan is doing a poor job of transitioning away from fossil fuels.

She said the province has poured money into carbon capture projects that are providing less than optimum results.

In 2014, Unit 3 of SaskPower's Boundary Dam Power Station was retrofitted to capture carbon emissions, the first power station in the world to successfully capture and store carbon emissions.

SaskPower relies on coal, a large producer of greenhouse gas emissions, for 30 per cent of its power supply.

At the time, the carbon capture project aimed to capture about 90 per cent of emissions from the coal-fired plant.

Eaton said studies are showing that the carbon capture rate at Boundary Dam is closer to 45 per cent.

"Carbon capture is a dangerous distraction that consumes a lot of public resources and prevents us … from not making the pollution in the first place," she said.

Eaton said that capturing emissions from fossil fuel production isn't enough to meet climate change targets.

"About 80 to 95 per cent of the emissions come from combusting that fossil fuel, whether that's in combustion engines or in gas fired coal plants. And so even if we could reduce the emissions from our oil and gas industry down to something close to net zero, we can't be producing fossil fuels in a zero carbon future."

Matthew Glover, a spokesperson for the province, said that Saskatchewan's Whitecap Enhanced Oil Recovery facility sequesters about half of Canada's carbon emissions annually and has 82 per cent fewer emissions compared with standard oil extraction.

"As the demand for oil is expected to grow over the next decade, our government will continue to poise Saskatchewan to be a leading supplier of energy that the world needs, while standing by our record on environmental stewardship and human rights compared to other jurisdictions."

Eaton said focusing on carbon capture just prolongs Saskatchewan's reliance on fossil fuels when time and resources should be spent transitioning away from that industry.

"We're not talking about turning the tap off overnight. We're talking about today's oil production is the peak production."

She also said that the emissions captured at the Boundary Dam are sent by pipeline to the Weyburn oil fields, where they are being used for enhanced oil recovery.

"So we're actually producing more fossil fuels than we would otherwise be able to do through sequestration and utilization of that carbon."

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