Science

Canadian Gas Association under investigation over its claims natural gas is 'clean'

The federal Competition Bureau is investigating the Canadian Gas Association to determine if the industry lobby group made misleading statements about the environmental impact of natural gas.

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment filed complaint against industry lobby group

Natural gas is transported across the country by the TC Energy pipeline, formerly TransCanada, near Cold Lake, Alta. The Canadian Competition Bureau has launched an inquiry into 'alleged deceptive marketing practices' by the Canadian Gas Association, an industry lobby group. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

The federal Competition Bureau is investigating the Canadian Gas Association to determine if it made misleading statements about the environmental impact of natural gas.

The bureau confirmed Thursday it has launched an inquiry into "alleged deceptive marketing practices" by the industry lobby group. The inquiry was prompted by a complaint lodged by six individuals connected with the advocacy group Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE).

The complaint alleged that the Canadian Gas Association — whose members include companies such as Enbridge Inc., FortisBC and ATCO — is misleading the public with its "Fuelling Canada" marketing campaign.

The campaign promotes the use of natural gas as a form of low emission energy. On the campaign's website, the lobby group says "Canada's natural gas industry works 24/7 to ensure affordable, clean, and reliable energy for families and businesses."

But the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment argues natural gas is not as "clean" as the campaign makes it sound. In a news release, the group says natural gas is a fossil fuel that contributes to global warming.

"The extraction and production of gas also pollutes the air and contaminates water sources, while closer to home, gas appliances cause indoor air pollution and pose a serious health risk for children's respiratory health," said Dr. Melissa Lem, a member of CAPE and one of the complainants.

Methane emissions

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, burning natural gas for energy results in fewer emissions of nearly all types of air pollutants and carbon dioxide than burning coal or petroleum products.

However, the federal agency says natural gas production and extraction is responsible for the leakage of methane — a potent greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2019, methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems and from abandoned oil and natural gas wells were the source of about 29 per cent of total U.S. methane emissions and about 3 per cent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

In Canada, environmental groups have called on this country's energy sector to do more to reduce so-called fugitive emissions — methane leaks that can occur during the natural gas drilling and extraction process.

In a statement sent to CBC News, Canadian Gas Association CEO Timothy Egan said they had been informed of the bureau's inquiry. 

"The CGA will co-operate with the Competition Bureau and is confident in its position. Natural gas plays an important part in Canada's energy mix," he said. 

On its website, the Canadian Gas Association said the industry is working to deploy technologies that reduce emissions across all its operations. It said recent innovations include hybrid heating, combined heating and small-scale residential/commercial carbon capture — all of which have the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of natural gas usage.

The federal Competition Bureau is obligated by law to investigate formal complaints related to misleading advertising, as long as they meet the technical requirements laid out under Canada's Competition Act.

In September, the bureau confirmed it is investigating a related complaint of alleged "greenwashing" in advertising, this one with respect to RBC.

The RBC inquiry was launched following allegations that the bank's claims of being committed to net-zero are misleading, given the fact that the financial institution continues to finance the fossil fuel sector.

In response to the Competition Bureau's investigation, the bank denied it has been misleading clients. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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