The federal government wants to delay the implementation of its much-touted new methane regulations by up to three years.
Documents obtained by CBC News show the initial federal plan was to phase in tough rules to control methane from the oil and gas industry starting in 2018, with all of the new regulations in place by 2020.
But a revised federal timeline shows the regulations would be phased in starting in 2020 and wouldn't be fully implemented until 2023.
The delay is in sharp contrast to the announcement made only a year ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who stood on the White House lawn with U.S. President Barack Obama and declared they would jointly tackle methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and reduce them by up to 45 per cent by 2025.
The documents referring to the revised timeline came out of discussions between the government and stakeholders. The new timeline will be incorporated into the proposed methane regulations that are expected to be announced at the end of April.
'The low-hanging fruit of emission reductions'
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that has 25 times the climate warming effects of carbon dioxide.
Most of it comes from oil and gas operations. It leaks from equipment like compressors, pumps and pipelines or is vented from oil and gas wells and petroleum storage tanks.
For that reason, it's considered to be relatively easy to capture the emissions by improving equipment and changing industry practices.
Reducing methane is the only part of Canada's national climate plan that deals directly with emissions from the oil and gas industry.
"It is what is called the low-hanging fruit of emission reductions in Canada," said Tim Gray, executive director of the environmental non-profit group Environmental Defence.
Gray says for that reason, there is no justification to delay new rules that will make companies reduce methane emissions that result from their operations.
"You can't stand on a stage and say, 'We are going to move ahead on our commitments,' and then the implementation mechanisms all get watered down," said Gray.
The documents show the federal government wants to "adjust" its timing to give provinces more time to bring in their own equivalent rules and also to give industry more time to spread out the costs of retrofitting facilities.
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Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says her government intends to meet the 2025 methane reduction target. But pointed out they have to listen to concerns of key players.
"There is a regulatory process. We need to listen to industry," said McKenna in a conference call Thursday from San Francisco, Calif., where she was promoting clean technology and trade with the state.
"Our goal is to take serious action on climate change to reduce emissions. But we need to be doing it in a smart way where we make sure that we are understanding the perspective of industry and understanding the science."
Delay will mean 55M more tonnes of methane, group claims
Energy companies are worried about their ability to compete with their U.S. counterparts now that the Trump administration has scrapped Obama's plans to control methane emissions.
Vicki Ballance, director of climate and innovation with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says that's why the industry pushed hard to get more time to adjust to the new methane rules.
"I think we understood and agree with the reduction target it was more about how do we get there?" said Ballance in an interview with CBC.
"The process that we are going through has yielded some opportunity for us to manage those competitiveness concerns."
Ballance says that the industry will voluntarily reduce its methane emissions while the new regulations are being phased in.
But Gray says he is skeptical. He estimates the delay in regulations will see up to 55 million tonnes of methane released into the environment that wouldn't have otherwise.
"It's going to be difficult for Canada to meet its emissions targets. I think everyone will admit that," he said.