On May 25, Catherine McKenna, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) announced the next phase of Canada’s efforts to address the needless waste of natural gas by cutting methane pollution from the country’s oil and gas sector.
The announcement is the culmination of years of work quantifying the emissions, the economic solutions and developing policies in conjunction with industry, the provincial governments, indigenous peoples, and civil society. The draft regulations being published in Canada’s official “Gazette 1” will help Canada towards achieving its goal of a 45% reduction in oil and gas methane pollution and help Canada to meet its overall climate targets, but they should be strengthened before being finalized.
The oil and natural gas sector is the largest industrial emitter of methane in Canada, the primary constituent of natural gas and the second most important climate pollutant after carbon dioxide. Methane is a powerful climate-changing pollutant that, pound for pound, warms the climate 36 times more than carbon dioxide in the century after it is released. Over a shorter period of 20 years, methane is 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Canada’s draft methane regulations are just another sign of the importance the world is placing on reducing this powerful greenhouse gas. The U.S. federal government, states like New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and California, and 20 other countries* have also pledged to tackle oil and gas methane pollution. This is good news for the climate, but it’s also good news for public health, taxpayers, and the economy.
In 2014 alone, Canada’s oil and gas industry leaked, vented and flared millions of dollars of natural gas into the atmosphere, enough to supply every household in Edmonton and Calgary combined. Saving energy by requiring oil and gas companies to regularly inspect and repair leaky equipment is just common sense. Cutting methane is also good business as it fosters good-paying jobs in a growing methane management services industry.
The draft standards will reduce emissions by requiring best practices such as Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR), reduced emission completions (REC) and equipment repairs and upgrades for compressor stations, oil tanks, and pneumatics, among other things. While all of this is a tremendous step forward, Canada should strengthen a number of the provisions:
- First, the threshold for application of the rules should be tightened, so that pollution is reduced from oil facilities with significant emissions;
- Second, ECCC should increase the frequency of the LDAR requirements to four times a year;
- And lastly, the timeline for implementation, which was pushed back, should be accelerated to require the first phase to take affect in 2019, not 2020 as currently drafted.
And of course one of the most important elements will be how the federal government determines what is considered an equivalent program by the provincial regulators who will be charged with implementation. ECCC will need to push hard on “equivalency” with the provinces to ensure that the reductions envisioned are achieved.
With these regulations, ECCC estimates that greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by roughly 20 megatonnes a year, equal to removing about 5 million passenger vehicles from the road each year. This will result in a reduction in climate damages by $13.4 billion over the course of the regulatory program (2018-2035). In addition, the reductions in methane, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants will lead to significant health benefits. However, at this time ECCC has not done an assessment of the cobenefit health reductions.
As Canada moves forward on methane reductions, Congress and the Trump Administration have been busy trying to roll back the progress the US has made on climate change and public health in recent years. But the American people have pushed back hard on these attempts. Recently, the US Congress tried to kill the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste rule but the Senate voted down the measure after voters across the country pressed their Senators to stand up for commonsense measures to reduce the waste of gas on federal lands. As the Senate vote, and now the Canadian methane initiative, have clearly shown, we simply cannot turn back on addressing global climate change.
*Australia, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States—MARRAKECH COMMUNIQUÉ, CCAC 8th High Level Assembly – November 2016, Marrakech