Notley government set to cap oilsands emissions

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Alberta takes steps to cap oilsands emissions
WATCH ABOVE: The Alberta NDP is taking steps to put a hard cap on oilsands emissions.The sector accounts for about 10 per cent of Canada's total CO2 emissions and the NDP is hoping to cap that. Tom Vernon reports. – Nov 1, 2016

The legal rubber has hit the road on Alberta’s promise to cap greenhouse gas emissions from the oilsands — the engine of the province’s economy.

Environment Minister Shannon Phillips introduced Bill 25 in the legislature Tuesday that, if passed and enacted, will forbid oilsands industries from collectively emitting more than 100 megatonnes of greenhouse gases a year.

Phillips said the legislation would help green the industry while spurring innovation and growth.

“Alberta got the oil out of the sand. We can now get the carbon out of the barrel,” Phillips said at a legislature news conference.

“Alberta can be an energy producer and a world leader on climate action, and Alberta must get the most value for our resources and find new markets for our products.

“But we cannot do it unless we are taking credible action. This bill is a critical element of that story.”

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The bill is part of a multi-faceted plan being introduced in stages by Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP government to reduce the effects of climate change and to remake Alberta’s energy infrastructure into one that relies more on renewables such as wind, solar and hydro power.

READ MORE: Alberta government outlines impact of carbon plan

Alberta oilsands operators emit about 66 megatonnes of greenhouse gases a year. Government officials say that, without changes, those emissions will reach 100 megatonnes by 2030.

“We commend the government on putting forth the regulations to implement a cap on tar sands emissions,” Greenpeace’s Mike Hudema said in a statement. “The proposed limit is still above what the science demands so the cap must be viewed as a ceiling rather than a floor.

“After the cap is implemented, Alberta must put forward a plan to ensure the cap isn’t breached and instead is ratcheted down over time. There is good research to show that with projects already under construction, Alberta is already nearing its tar sands greenhouse gas emissions limit.”

Phillips said the province is investing in new emissions-reducing technologies and “we have faith in Alberta industries to deliver.”

READ MORE: Shell’s carbon capture project in Alberta’s oilsands passes milestone

Under the proposed legislation, cabinet would be responsible for making sure that the 100-megatonne cap is not breached. It would do so by regulations and mechanisms such as financial penalties for companies that fail to bring emissions within reasonable limits. Large industrial emitters currently pay $30 a tonne above certain emissions intensity thresholds.

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There would be exceptions to the limit.

Electricity used in co-generation would be exempt. New businesses or new upgrades operational as of this year would be subject to a separate 10-megatonne limit to recognize their role in creating new jobs and attracting investment.

Cabinet could also create exemptions for low-level producers, experimental operations and enhanced recovery projects if deemed worthwhile.

The rules are to take effect once the bill is passed and proclaimed, which is expected to happen in the current legislature sitting.

They are to be crafted with help from the Oilsands Advisory Group, an 18-member panel struck in July.

READ MORE: Alberta names oilsands climate advisory panel

The advisory group is expected to report to the province early next year on the best ways to keep industry within the 100-megatonne limit, as well as suggest ways to innovate and advise on what the greenhouse gas landscape may look like after 2030.

Here’s a look at how emissions from the oilsands have grown since 1990 and when they are forecast to hit the 100-megatonne limit:

1990: 15.3 megatonnes

1995: 21.5 megatonnes

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2000: 24.5 megatonnes

2005: 34.2 megatonnes

2010: 53.5 megatonnes

2014: 67.8 megatonnes

2030: 100 megatonnes (estimate from Alberta government)

(Sources: Environment and Climate Change Canada, Alberta government)

The province has also promised to end coal-fired electricity by 2030 and introduce incentives to expand wind, solar and hydro energy. Legislation in those areas is expected this sitting.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver called the bill and Alberta’s climate plan ill-conceived and shortsighted.

“The government has already made a decision to strand billions of dollars worth of coal in the ground, and now they’re looking at stranding billions of dollars of petroleum products in the ground,” said McIver.

On Jan. 1, a new carbon tax kicks in, which will increase prices at the gas pumps and on heating bills. There will be full or partial rebates for low- and middle-income Albertans.

-With files from Phil Heidenreich.

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