Alberta climate plan allows for tar sands growth, export pipelines to proceed

Burnaby protest

Alberta's new climate action plan would still allow for the Energy East and TransMountain pipelines to proceed.

Yesterday, the Alberta government announced it would:

  • place a 100-megatonne a year cap on tar sands emissions (the current level of emissions from the tar sands is 70 megatonnes a year, 100 megatonnes is expected to be reached by 2030 with current practices)
  • allow another 10 megatonnes of emissions to permit new upgrading and co-generation facilities
  • reduce methane emissions from venting, flaring and leaking by 45 per cent from 2014 levels by 2025
  • introduce a carbon tax starting at $20 per tonne in January 2017, then to $30 a tonne in January 2018 (this will raise about $3 billion a year to be invested in renewable energy and to cover increased costs to consumers)
  • implement an 'accelerated phase out of coal' by 2030 (18 coal-fired electricity plants currently create 55 per cent of the province’s electricity)
  • replace two-thirds of coal-generated electricity with renewables (primarily wind power) and one-third with natural gas
  • ensure that renewable energy makes up to 30 per cent of the province's electricity production by 2030 (presently just 9 per cent of the province's electricity is sourced from solar, wind or other renewable sources)
  • implement an 'energy efficiency program'
  • work toward an overall carbon emissions cut for the province from 320 megatonnes a year to 250 megatonnes a year (which is not below 2005 levels)

The Edmonton Journal reports, "[Alberta premier Rachel] Notley said the new policy won’t guarantee new pipelines will be built, but will broaden the conversation about the merits of energy infrastructure for Alberta, Canada and other jurisdictions." And Maclean's reports, "When Notley was asked about Oil Change International’s tweet that this means 'no new tar sands growth', the premier furrowed her brow and said no. Furrowing and shaking their heads along with her were four oil sands executives invited to share the announcement, from Suncor, Shell, Cenovus and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd."

The Globe and Mail adds, "The six-month-old government says the previous weak climate policies hampered efforts to persuade the United States and other trading partners to accept more shipments of crude from the carbon-intensive oil sands." And the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers also sees export pipelines in Alberta's future under this plan. It comments, "[The plan] will allow the oil and natural gas industry to grow, further enhance its environmental performance through technological innovation, and is expected to improve market access to allow Canadian oil to reach more markets..."

Less than ten days prior to the announcement, Alberta's energy minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd expressed her support for the Energy East and TransMountain pipelines. Responding to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's de facto killing of the Northern Gateway pipeline with the promise of a tanker ban for British Columbia's northern coast, the energy minister stated, "We’re going to work with the ones that have the most possibility of getting done sooner than not. We won’t want to waste energy on ones that don’t have as much promise. And those two are very promising, right way." says, “Alberta’s climate plan is a big step in the right direction for a province that has spent so long on the wrong side of climate action. But, we still have a long way to go to reach the kind of climate leadership that Canada needs to meet our obligation to 2ºC. A cap on tar sands emissions is the kind climate policy that we needed a decade ago. Scientist tell us that at least 85% of tar sands reserved need to stay in the ground to meet Canada’s climate obligations, and an emissions cap alone won’t be enough to get us there." And Greenpeace says, "Most of the climate scientists say jurisdictions need to reduce their emissions 30 to 40 per cent by 2030, 80 to 90 per cent by 2050. This plan doesn’t have Alberta’s emissions at those levels."

All the measures announced yesterday will still allow for a massive expansion of the tar sands (from 70 megatonnes a year now to 100 megatonnes a year in 2030) and would reportedly cost producers less than $1 per barrel. Most bluntly, the Maclean's article notes, "...If the rhetoric and action are enough to make the next pipeline plans actually go through, then the plan could pay for itself."

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