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article imageOil sands need to get on board with Canada's climate goals

By Karen Graham     Feb 19, 2020 in Environment
Ottawa - Alberta’s oil sands operators will need to face higher carbon taxes, stricter regulations and implement technologies that don’t exist yet if Canada is going to meet its climate commitments, warns a new report from the Pembina Institute.
With Canada's fiscal year beginning on April 1, public consultations on the federal budget began in January. - and as Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau told students during a visit to Ryerson University in Toronto, climate change will be a "central focus of our upcoming budget."
We might add that in a Bank of Canada business survey released in January, more than half of businesses, especially those in the goods sector and large exporting firms, noted negative impacts tied to climate change, including financial losses or damage from extreme weather, like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.
Perhaps the biggest industry in Canada is the oil sands sector, and with the new federal budget coming up, it poses a significant challenge for Alberta’s oil patch. A a new report from the Pembina Institute, explains the oil sands are on a "collision course between overall emissions and national climate commitments."
Oil sands  Fort McMurray  Alberta  Canada
Oil sands, Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
eryn.rickard (CC BY 2.0)
Business-as-usual no longer applies
You have heard the phrase "business as usual" associated with climate crisis warnings, meaning that if we continue doing nothing to mitigate the effects of global warming, it will only get worse. The report points out in the opening paragraph that Canada's oil sands are at a crossroads and significant changes are necessary because "business-as-usual no longer applies."
This is not to say that some progress has been made. Continuous improvements over the past decade have reduced the carbon intensity of specific oilsands products, ranging from a 4 percent to 21 percent reduction since 2009. However, despite the improvements, "absolute carbon emissions from the oilsands continue to increase overall.
How much does this amount to? With bitumen production soaring over the past decade, it is estimated that a barrel of oil produced in Canada is associated on average with 70 percent more Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than the average crude produced globally.
A number of studies were used in this report, and they consistently found that oilsands products were more carbon-intensive than lighter, conventional oil sources. This came to light in a study by Environment Canada published in April 2019. The study suggested that GHG emissions from Alberta's oilsands may be significantly higher than industry reports
The Athabasca Oil Sands  Alberta Canada.
The Athabasca Oil Sands, Alberta Canada.
Until recently, all emission measurements have been based on a combination of ground measurements and a whole lot of mathematical modeling, a so-called "ground-up approach" which is basically an estimation. However, Environment Canada used aircraft measurements over the Canadian oil sands to derive the first top-down, measurement-based determination of their annual CO2 emissions and intensities.
“The reality that the oil and gas industry faces today is that there is a pathway for some oil from the oil sands. But we’re not going to see the emissions reductions we need from those companies voluntarily; it’ll require a much higher price on carbon, as well as other regulations,” said Chris Severson-Baker, the Alberta director for Pembina, reports the Globe and Mail.
According to CBC Canada, "Canada's annual emissions totaled 716 megatonnes in 2017. Under the Paris Agreement, it has pledged to reduce that amount to 511 megatonnes by 2030, but at its current rate is set to miss that target by nearly 100 megatonnes."
More about Oilsands, pembina institute, Canada, climate goals, Federal budget
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