Deep, costly cuts in oil and gas emissions will be necessary in order to meet Canada’s ambitious new 2050 targets

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

In order to meet its new 2050 GHG emissions targets, Canada will need to reduce emissions 80 per cent below 2005 levels.

The energy industry will have to do the same, which means slashing its emissions to just 67 Mt CO2e in 2050 from 597 Mt CO2e in 2005.

Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, announced the 87-page plan, titled Canada's Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy, at COP 22 in Marrakesch, Morocco last week, making Canada one‎ of the first countries to set such lofty targets for its 732 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions (Environment Canada data for 2014).

Environmental advocates were quick to praise the plan, which is neither a “blueprint for action” nor a “policy prescriptive,” according to the government, but rather a document meant to inform the conversation about how Canada can achieve a low-carbon economy.

“A 2050 timeline may sound abstract or irrelevant,” Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, said in a statement. [But] it’s not. Governments and companies are making decisions every day about infrastructure projects that will last for decades.”

Various scenarios towards deep emissions reductions are modeled in the report along with suggested potential GHG abatement opportunities and emerging key technologies.

Oil and gas is grouped in with other industrial sectors as “areas” where emissions reductions will be “more challenging and will require policy focus” in order to realize a low-carbon economy by 2050.

“Most international and Canadian greenhouse gas mid-century abatement analyses note that deep cuts in emissions are possible with today’s technology, although mitigation costs remain high in certain areas,” the report says.

One of the criticisms leveled at the strategy is its cursory treatment of the oil and gas sector. It makes no mention of pipelines, the role of petroleum in the transition to a lower-carbon economy and doesn’t attempt to reconcile the CO2 emissions in petroleum extraction with production of products that, along with coal, are the source of global CO2 emissions when “consumed.”

Sustainable Canada Dialogues, a group of more than 60 academics, said that “despite positive steps forward, the federal government has been unable so far to develop a coherent climate action plan largely because of its inability to address fossil fuels coherently.”

Nonetheless, here are some of the report’s key messages for industry:

  • Electrification of industrial operations offers emissions reduction potential. The use of electricity from non-emissions sources such as hydro, wind and solar is advocated for the oil and gas industry processes. In the oilsands, “the adoption of electric steam generators to replace natural-gas fired steam generators could reduce direct emissions.”
  • Electrical cogeneration is well-established in oilsands operations, and the report sees additional potential in this technology, which has recently been raised as an opportunity by the Canadian Energy Systems Analysis Research initiative. “In order to fully maximize the potential of cogeneration to reduce GHG emissions, the adoption of certain technologies may be necessary, including those that optimize load matching, improve operations in harsh environments, and allow for biomass gasification, advanced power cycles, and high-penetration of renewables into fossil thermal cycles," the government document states.
  • Other improvements in energy efficiency through innovative ways of optimizing energy production and consumption will be essential. “For example, deploying energy management systems to oil and gas facilities and improving energy efficiency through programs and standards could help drive significant reductions in the demand for energy…In oilsands operations, the adoption of innovative low-carbon extraction processes offers potential GHG emission reductions. Advanced technologies, such as solvent and electrothermal-based extraction methods for in situ, or direct contact steam generation, are at a stage of development whereby they offer a substantial opportunity to reduce emissions.”
  • Carbon capture and storage, fuel switching to non-emitting fuels, and recycling can also reduce emissions. “These technologies continue to improve.”

The report says that there "remain challenges in reducing emissions from some sectors, for which innovation and research and development will be necessary.”

“Dealing with climate change will ultimately require net-zero anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions over the course of this century,” it concludes.

“Canada will need to fundamentally transform all economic sectors, especially patterns of energy production and consumption. Over time, this requires major structural changes to the economy and the way people live, work, and consume.”

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