Elizabeth May’s submission to the Saskatchewan Methane Order in Council

On Tuesday, July 14th, 2020 in Climate Change, Democracy, Letters, Parliament

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

RE: Consultation on the Proposed Order Declaring that the Provisions of the Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Methane and Certain Volatile Organic Compounds (Upstream Oil and Gas Sector) Do Not Apply in Saskatchewan

July 13, 2020

Dear Minister Wilkinson,

I am writing today to provide feedback on the proposed order declaring that the Provisions of the Regulations Respecting Reduction in the Release of Methane and Certain Volatile Organic Compounds do not apply in Saskatchewan. I am grateful for this consultation opportunity.

Key differences in federal versus provincial regulations

Having read the government order, I understand that the Ministry of Environment believes that the Saskatchewan regulations surrounding methane meet the requirements for an equivalency agreement. However, echoing the sentiments of organizations like the Pembina Institute, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the David Suzuki Foundation, it is clear that these regulations are not equivalent.

Even after the province’s adoption of the Saskatchewan Directives, there are still gaps between the provincial and federal regulations. Most notably, performance-based standards of regulation at the federal level compared to outcome-based standards of regulation at the provincial level. Due to outdated measurement and reporting systems that have still not been addressed by the Saskatchewan Directives, outcome-based standards are not best practice as methane emissions cannot be effectively measured.

In addition, although the Saskatchewan Directives did address some issues with fugitive emissions, regular and comprehensive inspections at all sources are not mandated under the provincial regulations. This is a massive blind spot and could lead to harmful and needless methane leaks.

To compare the provincial and federal regulations at this stage is like comparing apples to oranges. The provincial regulations still pale in comparison to the federal regulations.

Long-term projected emissions reductions are not equivalent

While the five-year outlook for emissions reductions are estimated to be about the same under both provincial and federal regulations, the 10-year outlook is dramatically different. Under provincial regulations, 8.6 megatonnes more of methane emissions are estimated to be released compared to federal regulations.

Although the Ministry of Environment will put forward another equivalency agreement in five years’ time, that the projection is so different under the provincial regulations is a concerning signifier of insufficiency. It also means putting off the work five years down the line that could be addressed now. That is just bad policy.

The projections also do not take into account the weaker provincial oversight mechanisms that will inevitably result in increased fugitive emissions, which will likely increase the estimated difference in emissions.

Methane regulation in the context of the climate crisis

It is quite clear that this proposed equivalency agreement is merely a way for the powerful oil and gas industry to continue to evade responsibility. I am disheartened to see the federal government allow itself to be lobbied by a group that clearly does not have Canada’s best interests at heart.

We are in a climate crisis, and that we are still bickering over methane emissions is extremely concerning. We do not have the time nor the carbon budget to allow leniency surrounding methane emissions.

According to your very ministry, methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, and accounts for 15 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions. We should be strengthening our federal regulations, and certainly not allowing provinces to bend the rules and evade doing the hard work.

Addressing the climate crisis will take sacrifice and courage. But putting off the hard work now simply pushes off the inevitable, and makes our world all the more volatile in the future. Minister, I strongly encourage you to rethink this proposed order.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth May, O.C.
Member of Parliament
Saanich-Gulf Islands
Parliamentary Leader of the Green Party of Canada

 

Appendix

Global warming potential of methane as per other reports 28-86 times more:

  • J. Huang, B. Mendoza, J. S. Daniel, C. J. Nielsen, L. Rotstayn, and O. Wild, “Anthropogenic and natural radiative forcing,” in Climate Change 2013 the Physical Science Basis: Working Group I Contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, vol. 9781107057, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.: Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 659–740.
  • G. Myhre et al., “Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013.

2. Recent studies have revealed major discrepancies between observed and reported emissions, and shown a high temporal variability of methane emissions. They indicate a high underestimation of official inventories with almost two thirds of emissions being unreported. Based on the studies, and given that Saskatchewan allows for higher venting, the plan is not equivalent. This could be tricky as it’s really venting that goes unreported and if greater venting is allowed then LDAR won’t matter. LDAR is only as effective as “leaks” found. The idea for LDAR is to find fugitive emissions and repair them. Thus, if fugitive emissions (leaks) are only 32% then that is all we can reduce, we won’t hit the 45% target reduction by 2025. Moreover, vents are almost 2.4 times those of leaks. Johnson et al (2017) found that in Red Deer, AB leak emissions were 19% of total emissions only. This means that without strict venting limits, we can only reduce 19% of emissions, assuming we find each and every little leak and fix it.

  • D. Zavala-Araiza et al., “Methane emissions from oil and gas production sites in Alberta, Canada,” Elementa, vol. 6, 2018.
  • M. R. Johnson, D. R. Tyner, S. Conley, S. Schwietzke, and D. Zavala-Araiza, “Comparisons of Airborne Measurements and Inventory Estimates of Methane Emissions in the Alberta Upstream Oil and Gas Sector,” Environ. Sci. Technol., vol. 51, no. 21, pp. 13008–13017, Nov. 2017.
  • D. Zavala-Araiza et al., “Methane emissions from oil and gas production sites in Alberta, Canada,” Elementa, vol. 6, 2018.
  • M. R. Johnson, D. R. Tyner, S. Conley, S. Schwietzke, and D. Zavala-Araiza, “Comparisons of Airborne Measurements and Inventory Estimates of Methane Emissions in the Alberta Upstream Oil and Gas Sector,” Environ. Sci. Technol., vol. 51, no. 21, pp. 13008–13017, Nov. 2017.
  • J. Liggio et al., “Measured Canadian oil sands CO 2 emissions are higher than estimates made using internationally recommended methods,” Nat. Commun., vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 1–9, Dec. 2019.
  • D. R. Tyner and M. R. Johnson, “A Techno-Economic Analysis of Methane Mitigation Potential from Reported Venting at Oil Production Sites in Alberta,” Environ. Sci. Technol., vol. 52, no. 21, pp. 12877–12885, 2018.
  • T. L. Vaughn et al., “Temporal variability largely explains top-down/bottom-up difference in methane emission estimates from a natural gas production region,” Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A., vol. 115, no. 46, pp. 11712–11717, Nov. 2018.
  • D. T. Allen, F. J. Cardoso-Saldaña, and Y. Kimura, “Variability in Spatially and Temporally Resolved Emissions and Hydrocarbon Source Fingerprints for Oil and Gas Sources in Shale Gas Production Regions,” Environ. Sci. Technol., vol. 51, no. 20, pp. 12016–12026, Oct. 2017.

3. Outcome-based standards are not best practice as methane emissions cannot be effectively measured. Conducting LDAR just once a year would not be very effective in finding fugitive emissions given intermittency of emissions, and the hard nature of tracking and estimating them. We can only reduce emissions that we know, and we only know the emissions we measure. Any effective emissions mitigation policy requires the ability to track and measure emissions over time and space (frequent LDAR). Monitoring must also be across wide temporal scales. It should be done in every season, as emissions change seasonally.

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