Alberta Limits Tar Sands Emissions, Sets Carbon Price

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, left, announces her government's new climate protection plan in the presence of Alberta's Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips, right, Edmonton, Alta. Nov. 22, 2015 (Screengrab from video courtesy Office of the Premier)


EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada, November 23, 2015 (ENS) – Alberta’s new Climate Leadership Plan puts a price on carbon pollution for everyone, sets emissions limits for the oil sands industry and accelerates the transition from coal to renewable electricity sources.

The province is well known for the vast oil sands, or tar sands, that spread across its northern landscape, emitting greenhouse gases as the heavy crude oil is extracted, transported, refined and burned.

Until now there has been no legal limit to those emissions, but on Sunday Premier Rachel Notley said her government will legislate the province’s first overall oil sands carbon emissions limit.

Premier Notley, who leads a New Democratic Party provincial government, says climate protection and a thriving economy can go hand-in-hand.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, left, announces her government’s new climate protection plan in the presence of Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips, right, Edmonton, Alta. Nov. 22, 2015 (Screengrab from video courtesy Office of the Premier)

Announcing the Climate Leadership Plan just ahead of the UN’s annual climate negotations in Paris, which opens November 30, Premier Notley says the province is doing its part to combat destructive climate change.

“Responding to climate change is about doing what’s right for future generations of Albertans – protecting our jobs, health and the environment,” the premier said.

“Alberta is showing leadership on one of the world’s biggest problems, and doing our part,” said Notley, the daughter of another Alberta NDP leader, MLA Grant Notley (1971-1984).

Alberta’s plan includes what the government calls “achievable carbon pollution reduction measures,” while using revenues from the plan to help Alberta adapt and thrive in a lower-carbon economy.

“It will help us access new markets for our energy products, and diversify our economy with renewable energy and energy efficiency technology,” Notley said.

Alberta’s new Climate Leadership Plan even attracted support, or at least resignation, from some in the oil sands industry, such as Murray Edwards, chair, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, one of the largest independent crude oil and natural gas producers in the world.

“We will grow our economy by applying technology to reduce our carbon output per barrel, which is what this limit will promote,” said Edwards.

tar sands
Trucks loaded with oil-bearing sand rumble away across the northern Alberta plain. (Photo by David Cooper / Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University)

Canadian Natural Resources has a lot at stake. On its website, the company says, “We have the largest proved plus probable reserve base of our Canadian peer group with approximately 7.99 billion barrels of oil equivalent and the largest proven reserve base among our North American peer group.”

Premier Notley says a majority of Albertans support a limit on the industry.

“The plan is based on the advice of the Climate Change Advisory Panel, led by Dr. Andrew Leach, which heard from thousands of individual Albertans and stakeholder groups this fall,” she said.

Alberta’s Minister of Environment and Parks Shannon Phillips thanked the panel members and the many Albertans, including Indigenous people, industry, environmental groups, municipalities and other partners and stakeholders for their contributions to the panel’s work.

“This is the right plan for our province, and now is the right time to implement it,” Phillips said.

Some environmentalists agree.

ForestEthics Canada Director Karen Mahon said, “Premier Notley’s bold plan holds oil companies responsible for carbon pollution where tar sands are extracted. That’s strong leadership and a very good thing for the climate.”

“This plan puts in place both a price and regulatory limit on carbon pollution. Coupled with the transition from coal to renewable electricity, this plan moves Alberta from climate laggard to a climate leader,” Mahon said.

Oil is extracted from the sand at this Syncrude facility at Mildred Lake, Alberta (Photo by jasonwoodhead23)

“Six million barrels of tar sands per day are currently permitted, but under this plan and under existing technology, half of that – three million barrels per day that would have burned – will now stay in the ground.

She called the plan “a game changer for Alberta and Canada” on the eve of the Paris climate talks.

“Canada is charting a new direction. There is now nothing standing in the way of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau legislating an ambitious national climate leadership plan,” Mahon said hopefully. Canada has just elected a Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudean, son of Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudean.

“Scientists say two-thirds of the world’s remaining fossil fuels should stay in the ground. That’s where society is ultimately headed. This plan ends runaway growth in the tar sands and limits carbon pollution,” said Mahon. “This is what climate leadership looks like and that is why ForestEthics supports it.”

But other environmentalists say Notley’s plan is too little too late.

Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada blogged Sunday on their site, “As momentous an occasion as it is when an oil jurisdiction actually puts limits on growth, [emission of] 100 million tonnes of carbon a year at a time when science is demanding bold reductions is still far too much.”

“While historic, the government’s cap needs to be viewed as a ceiling rather then a floor, and a ceiling that we will need to work like crazy to ratchet down until it meets the science,” he wrote.

On the good side – what the current cap does mean is that the two-to-five fold expansion the tar sands industry had planned will not happen,” Hudema comments.

“All I have to say to that is BAM! Investors better take note and start moving away from high carbon assets as soon as they can.”

Climate Leadership Plan: The Details

— Electricity and renewables

Alberta will phase out all pollution created by burning coal and transition to more renewable energy and natural gas generation by 2030.

Three principles will shape the coal phase-out: maintaining reliability; providing reasonable stability in prices to consumers and business; and, ensuring that capital is not unnecessarily stranded.

Two-thirds of coal-generated electricity will be replaced by renewables – primarily wind power – while natural gas generation will continue to provide firm base load reliability.

Renewable energy sources will comprise up to 30 per cent of Alberta’s electricity production by 2030.

— Carbon pricing

A price on carbon provides an incentive for everyone to reduce greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change.

Alberta will phase in this pricing in two steps.

$20/tonne economy-wide in January 2017

$30/tonne economy-wide in January 2018

An overall oil sands emission limit of 100 megatonnes will be set, with provisions for new upgrading and co-generation.

— Methane reduction

In collaboration with industry, environmental organizations, and affected First Nations, Alberta will implement a methane reduction strategy to reduce emissions by 45% from 2014 levels by 2025.

— Revenue neutral

One-hundred percent of proceeds from carbon pricing will be reinvested in Alberta, the government pledges.

A portion of collected revenues will be invested directly into measures to reduce pollution, including clean energy research and technology; green infrastructure, such as public transit; and, programs to help Albertans reduce their energy use.

Other revenues will be invested in an adjustment fund that will help individuals and families make ends meet; provide transition support to small businesses, First Nations, and people working in affected coal facilities.

“We are going to do our part to address one of the world’s greatest problems. We are going to put capital to work, investing in new technologies, better efficiency, and job-creating investments in green infrastructure,” said Premier Notley. “We are going to write a made-in-Alberta policy that works for our province and our industries, and keeps our capital here in Alberta.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2015. All rights reserved.


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