Tougher methane reduction measures in Alberta sought by environmental groups

Three environmental organizations are banding together to oppose Alberta's proposed regulations to reduce methane pollution, saying the provincial measures are “considerably weaker” than ones being considered by the federal government.

Alberta government's goal is to reduce emissions by 45% by 2025

Environmental groups want Alberta to adopt tougher rules around reducing methane emissions, like ones proposed by the federal government. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Three environmental organizations are opposing Alberta's proposed regulations to reduce methane pollution, saying the provincial measures are "considerably weaker" than ones being considered by the federal government.

In April, the province released its draft proposal with the goal of reducing methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2025. The federal government also released its draft proposal earlier this year. Consultations are now ongoing and finalized regulations are expected to be released by the end of the year.

A statement was issued Thursday by three environmental watchdog groups — the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence and the Pembina Institute — calling on the province to adopt tougher rules.

Dale Marshall, the national program manager with Environmental Defence, says Alberta's draft regulations will undermine Canada's ability to achieve its target reduction, as outlined in the Paris Agreement.

"The amount of methane that can be permitted per oil and gas site for venting is 12 times higher in Alberta than it is federally," he said.

As well, Marshall says, the provincial proposal calls for inspections of oil and gas facilities to be carried out once a year, while federal guidelines call for it to be done three times a year.

"This is very important because the research has shown it's very hard to predict which sites will be so-called super-emitters, sites that have unpredictably high sources of emissions of methane, so inspecting them more often means you catch those leaks more quickly and are able to repair them," he said.

Methane is a greenhouse gas considered about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Reducing emissions by sealing off leaks and other releases during energy extraction is considered to be one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways.

Alberta Energy Minister Margaret McCuaig-Boyd wasn't available for an interview but says in a statement she disagrees with the groups.

"We disagree with the NGO submission and continue to be confident in our firm commitment to reduce industrial methane pollution by 45 per cent from 2014 levels by 2025," it read.

"Some of these organizations were at the table to help develop this plan that will achieve federal equivalency, but with a lower cost and more flexibility for industry. Where we do agree with both NGOs and industry is that improved baseline data is needed to measure, monitor and report.

"Based on the current available data, we're on track to reduce our methane emissions by 45 per cent. As more data becomes available, we will continuously improve our actions to achieve that goal."

The province is also providing more than $2.3 billion in subsidies to the oil and gas industry, including exempting companies from carbon levy costs for the next five years.