There is an image bandied about the nation that Canada’s hydrocarbon sector is an out-of-touch dinosaur – steadfastly clinging to the past, yelling at clouds, and holding out for the glory days of the next petroleum boom.
In reality, do you want to know what is the hardest part of business in today’s oil patch? Figuring out which emissions-reduction schemes and programs to focus on. There are dozens taking shape, everywhere you look.
Those that don’t want to hear it won’t believe it, but the truth is that the level of activity directed towards emissions reduction/carbon reduction schemes is mind-boggling.
Whether that activity is due to government regulation is beside the point – most green activity has been due to government regulation. The difference is that renewable energy tends to get legislation that looks oddly like a carrot, while hydrocarbons get not just a stick but a public flogging.
No matter. The good people of the oil patch are getting on with it. Not just the oil patch, but Western Canadian energy in general.
Consider some of the absolutely huge initiatives of the past few years, including the most recent. From an emissions standpoint, let’s start with the biggest: Alberta is on path to eliminate all coal fired power generation by 2023 – seven years ahead of the provincial deadline. Consider what this means in terms of progress: In 2014, 55 percent of Alberta’s electricity was produced from coal fired generators; 9 years later, that will be zero. By any definition of ‘energy transition’, that’s not bad, is it? Consider also the odd poster child for renewable growth, China – in 2019, the country relied on coal for 58 percent of energy usage – and despite pledging to be net-zero by 2060, as of this spring the country had 247 gigawatts of new coal-fired power planned or under development (compared to the 6 gigawatts that Alberta shuttered – hey, how come no one noticed our mic-drop? But anyway).
That’s old news now, though. The current tidal wave of activity is breathtaking, and goes far beyond coal.
Alberta’s methane emissions are slated to be slashed by 45 percent by 2025. A consortium of oil sands producers, including some prickly ones that are as collaborative as cacti, have banded together to work on a massive carbon capture and storage scheme that will take a major slice out of Alberta’s carbon emissions. Pembina Pipelines and TC Energy have joined to form the Alberta Carbon Grid, a system of pipelines to transport the dreaded compound to a new home far underground. This is in addition to the existing Alberta Carbon Trunk LIne, which currently does same.
Hydrogen, which was a fringe freak show when I discussed it in my book in 2019, is now every third word in routine conversations. Hydrogen hubs, blue hydrogen, green hydrogen, grey hydrogen, blended hydrogen…the flurry of plans and ambitions is astonishing.
Yeah, so what, critics might say, so what if there are plans and ambitions. Well, there is a lot of firepower to back these up. It might be fresh new helicopter money dumped straight from the mint to anyone that utters the words ‘net-zero’, but it is real. The number of programs and sponsors – NGIF, Innovate Alberta, Emissions Reduction Alberta, Energy Futures Lab, Municipal Climate Change Action Centre, Climate Action and Awareness Fund, Green Infrastructure Fund, Low Carbon Economy Fund, Clean Growth Hub, Transition Accelerator, Climate Action Incentive Fund (I’m not making these up), Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, EcoAction Community Funding Program, Alberta Municipal Solar Program (want me to stop? I can go on all day), Clean Energy Improvement Program, Solar Electric Incentive Program (tell me when you want me to stop), Shovel-Ready Challenge, Partnership Intake Program (you’re fading aren’t you), Energy Savings for Business Program (standing 8 count), Industrial Energy Efficiency Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Grant Program (lights out) – is dizzying. And there are many more, I just got bored of cataloguing after a few minutes.
Change is coming, like a tidal wave. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap, and hydrocarbon opponents will not stop with the orchestrated assault on Canada’s petroleum sector. Some critics get indignant and/or apoplectic at the suggestion that this orchestration is real, but as proof that it does, I’d offer you two stories from Reuters that appeared nearly simultaneously in the energy news section: One, a two paragraph story about China’s approval of a new coal fired power scheme, a beautifully simple statement about what happened and how big the project is (huge); and second, a pathetic analysis of the oil sands’ worst, tiniest emissions offenders – a twenty-two paragraph dissection of how bad some projects are, no matter how small, with quotes from six people, with full two paragraphs alone devoted to a 5,000 barrel per day CNRL project, and Pulitzer-free analysis of whether Greenfire Acquisition Corp might double production on their Hangingstone property to 7,500 b/d. For reference, oil sands output is 3 million barrels per day, meaning Reuters devoted three people to a story about properties making up a fraction of a percent of oil sands output, yet indifferently had no opinion at all on China’s decision to increase coal capacity from 3 million tonnes per year to 5. Which is the way it should be, if Reuters was a news organization.
This global media anti-oil venom is well orchestrated, well developed, and will not ever go away in a rational manner. As the oil patch conquers this problem of emissions reduction, activists and their media machine will simply change to another topic. For further information on how and why that happens, go research how often Pravda issued retractions.
But to hell with them. The oil patch is teeming with talented people looking to crack the carbon nut, but who are too strong and clear-headed to join in any of the ‘oil is dead’ nonsense. There is an energy transition, but it is not an energy conversion, and it will take a very long time. Despite what you may read in the news, Canada’s hydrocarbon sector is full speed ahead on carbon emissions, and with the infrastructure footprint at its disposal the progress will silence many.
Oh, we will transition away from hydrocarbons…just not as soon as anyone thinks. Without them, there is no system at all. Find out why – pick up “The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity” at Amazon.ca, Indigo.ca, or Amazon.com. Thanks for the support.