Alberta’s new Premier Ed Stelmach is reported to say that he will not be reducing GHG emissions and “…stands firm on greenhouse gas plan.” There seems to be as much misunderstanding and confusion on Alberta’s intensions on GHG emissions as there is about how equalization works.
The half truths around GHG levels are sometime factual and sometimes conceptual misunderstandings and at other times they are induced by selected rhetorical references for scoring cheap political points.
Alberta knows that our energy economy is a disproportionately high contributor to GHG. The issue is what we are doing about it. Quite a bit actually and lots more is in the works. Calls for absolute GHG emission caps may work in sectors that are established and mature industries. Power generation, transportation, building standards, agriculture perhaps lend themselves more readily to absolute caps becasue the marginal costs can be calculated. Oil sands on the other hand is an embryonic industry sector. It is also a large user of energy, heat and water and a big time emitter of GHG as a result.
Alberta's big emitter industries have already been working for a few years to reduce GHG levels. The model is based on intensity reduction goals They are voluntarily and on a specific industry sector basis. These deals were worked out between industry with the governments of Alberta and Canada. This all happened by the way on Dion’s watch as Minister of the Environment.
The results of the volunteer program, instituted in 2004 I believe, have already seen a 16% reduction of GHG by Alberta’s energy industry on per unit of output. We are getting more effective at reducing GHG’s but since the oil sands, and Alberta overall, is growing rapidly, the total emissions have obviously gone up. Current oil sands production is just over 1 million barrels per day with projections to reach 3 million per day in less than a decade. The problem is obviously not going to resolve itself.
The USA just released some fiscal costs of the Iraq war, and it is over $470 per year for every man, woman and child in the States. That is not sustainable either so we can expect pressure from them for more energy supply from Canada very shortly. So total GHG emissions from Alberta are going to continue rising. Especially if we want the oil sands to be developed as a safe secure, reliable continental energy source. But even with that reality, we can’t just presume to continue in the old extraction adn mining models either. We need to create, change and adapt to new technology for oils sands extraction. That change is going to happen because it has to, both environmentally and politically.
We have a new deal on GHG emissions in the political works and it seems that Alberta and Canada are again on the same wave length with the Conservatives of today as they were earlier with the Liberals. In the face of rapid growth and the growing demand for energy, and with no reliable data, as yet, on the marginal costs of absolute caps, the intensity model will have to prevail, at least for now. It is not the end game but an interim measure that will become regulated, not voluntary, and likely more rigourous standards and with penalties for lack of compliance. New technologies that emerge to reduce GHG emissions will have to become compulsory for new plants and the older operators will have to adapt and adopt them too. Efficiencies will result and eventually absolute emissions caps will make practical sense.
The really big payoff for reduced GHG emissions in the Alberta energy sector will be when we truly come to see carbon dioxide as an asset instead of a liability. Once we commit and commence to capturing CO2 for use in enhanced conventional oil and gas recovery we will have turned a corner to toward realizing absolute, not just relative reductions of GHG from the Alberta energy sector. That is an idea whose time has come and the way has to be found to make that technology and its practical application a reality right now. That significnat culture change will change the climate in Alberta too - in more ways than one.
UPDATE: See these current and very related links:
Edmonton Journal story on oils sands mining option for heat source: http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=692459f7-5e3c-48db-b42a-32b730003c40
Edmonton Journal editorial:http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/opinion/story.html?id=4b21faea-acd2-41b7-b0d8-bc6b41e17318