A new agreement between Canada and the U.S. to dramatically reduce methane gas emissions from the oil and gas sector could be a tall order for producers in Alberta, says an energy researcher. 

Dinara Millington, vice president of research at the Canadian Energy Research Institute, says strict regulations already see the vast majority of the gas prevented from entering the atmosphere.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama announced Thursday their two countries will work together to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025.

"If you look at the historical data, the province of Alberta is already at 95 to 96 per cent of conservation of the gas that would have been flared or vented," said Millington.

"So if that 45 per cent target means that we have to capture the rest of that five per cent, I would say it's a hefty goal, because there are sources of methane reduction that might not actually be feasible — physically or economically."

Millington said to achieve such a high target, new restrictions would have to be applied to mid-stream and downstream aspects of the industry, such as power plants, transmission lines, pipelines that are connecting upstream development to gas plants and any leakages along the supply chain.

"I would think that all of those would have to be looked at," she said.


An energy researcher says strict regulations in Alberta already see the vast majority of the gas prevented from entering the atmosphere. (Reuters)

But Thursday's pledge to reduce emissions would make a significant contribution to Canada meeting its climate change targets if it succeeds, said Pembina Institute managing director Chris Severson-Baker.

Canada produces about 43 megatonnes of methane per year — the bulk of that from the upstream oil and gas sector in Alberta.

"The announcement today is to reduce by 40 to 45 per cent by 2025. So that's like bringing off a dozen to 15 coal-fired power plants in terms of greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

Severson-Baker says the Harper government promised in 2010 to bring forward new rules on methane emissions but never announced any guidelines.

Alberta planning consultations

Shannon Phillips, Alberta's minister responsible for climate change, says her government will be having consultations with the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) about the new Canada-U.S. strategy.

"What you will find is that, as with many things in the climate leadership plan, is that 2016 is a planning and implementation year," she said.

"We know that this has job creation opportunities in the oil and gas sector. We are mindful of that, that's why we want to move fairly quickly on this," she added.

Trudeau and Obama also pledged to take other steps to fight climate change, including new protections for the Arctic and signing and implementing global accord reached in Paris last year "as soon as feasible."

Agreement 'modeled exactly' on Alberta plan

Premier Rachel Notley says the agreement was "modeled exactly" on what her government announced in November.

"We are very proud to have been able to play the leadership role that we are playing on a continental basis," she said.

Rachel Notley Throne Speech

Premier Rachel Notley says the agreement is virtually identical to the plan that her government introduced in Alberta last fall. (CP file photo)