Tag Archives: Pembina Institute

Pembina, Suzuki Foundation urge a slowdown on natural gas development, particularly shale gas

Two of Canada’s top environmental NGOs — the Pembina Institute and the David Suzuki Foundation — issued a jointly prepared study today slamming our rising dependence on natural gas, warning that the fossil fuel, while generally cleaner than coal, could seriously slow down efforts to combat climate change if our increased reliance on it begins to bump renewables such as wind, solar and biomass from the future energy mix.

Natural gas is often called a “transition” fuel because it emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants than coal and is a good dance partner with renewables — that is, when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow a natural gas-fired power plant can kick in quickly to fill the gap. But beyond serving that purpose, the two organizations argue natural gas shouldn’t become the default option, especially if a rising portion of that gas is coming from shale deposits where drilling and extraction processes can affect local drinking water and lead to higher emissions compared to conventional natural gas development.

“Shale gas requires up to 100 times the number of well pads to extract the same amount of gas as conventional sources, and recent shale gas development in the U.S. has had major environmental impacts,” said Dale Marshall, climate change policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation. “Expanded natural gas production in Canada would bring a host of problems — as well as making it harder to fight climate change.”

I’ve written extensively about the environmental risks of shale-gas development, how low natural gas prices resulting from shale development are contributing to increased oil sands development, and how the physical footprint of shale gas developments should give wind NIMBYs pause for thought. I’ve also been sounding the alarm for a couple of years now on the dangers of becoming over-dependent on natural gas and how this “cleaner” fossil fuel would, with the rise of shale gas, eventually become a lightning rod in the climate-change (and water quality) debate. In my view, and to reuse one analogy I’ve used in the past, natural gas might be the “light” fossil fuel, just as you can purchase “light” cigarettes. But in the case of cigarettes, whether light or normal, they still cause cancer and heart disease, and certainly smoking twice as many light cigarettes to wean yourself off regular cigarettes will make matters worse. The point is you have to wean off all cigarettes, period. We need to treat natural gas like we treat nicotine patches and gums — something that’s used temporarily and in moderation to beat an addiction to something we know, from a health and environmental perspective, is bad for us over the long term.

Stephen Colbert gets it. (link only works for Canadians — Americans can see clip here).

Unfortunately, when Canada’s energy ministers meet next week in Alberta, I’m sure any talk of a national energy strategy will put the economy first. After all, we know asbestos causes cancer yet Quebec is permitted to continue selling the dangerous stuff to third-world countries. So will the Pembina-Suzuki report have any impact on outcomes? I doubt it. There will be welcome talk on the need to develop shale gas resources more responsibly, but the focus will be simple: let’s develop as much as possible as quickly as possible, sell it to the world, create jobs, and make a few hundred people really rich. There will be no talk of moderation, either for natural gas development or the oil sands.

That seems, these days, to be the Canadian way. Drill baby drill. Extract baby extract. Sell baby sell.

Guest Post: Stewart on why solar’s future is bright

 Solar panels can deliver clean power where we need it, when we need it most, and will soon be cost-competitive with electricity from the grid. That’s the conclusion of the Solar Generation report released today in India by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and Greenpeace International.
 
The report anticipates investment in the already-booming solar market to double over the next five years as solar PV capacity grows from 23 GW at the beginning of 2010 to 180 GW by 2015. And thanks to the cost reductions that come with mass production, production costs will be reduced by 40 per cent.
 
The two organizations are making the case that with the right policies (like the feed-in tariffs and priority grid access in Ontario’s Green Energy Act), solar PV could account for 5% of global power demand by 2020, and up to 9% by 2030. This would cut greenhouse gas emissions 1.4 billion tonnes per year (or over twice Canada’s total emissions and we’re in the top ten of global greenhouse gas polluters).
 
And while this report is a global overview, it is based on the Energy [R]evolution modelling whose Canadian results call for 1,000 MW of solar PV to be installed in Canada by 2015, 3000 MW by 2020 and 5,000 MW by 2030 in the Advanced scenario (called the ‘paradigm shift’ in the Solar Generation report). This is significantly more than in the IEA Reference Scenario where Canada installs only 1,000 MW of solar PV by 2020 and 2,000 MW by 2030, but the IEA does point out that their Reference Scenario (where no new actions are taken on climate change) would lead to six degrees of warming and “irreparable harm” to the planet.
 
Even the “paradigm shift” scenario isn’t looking too tough, however, when you consider that Ontario has already contracted for over 1,250 MW of solar power by adapting the very policies that were so successful in Europe. But if Canada is to meet and exceed the 2020 and 2030 targets, we need other provinces to pass their own Green Energy Acts and allow clean, renewable energy to replace polluting sources of power. We also need Ontario to leave space for green energy to continue to grow post-2015, by replacing its nuclear plants with green energy as they reach their end-of-life.
 
The Solar Revolution report was released in India, however, because the major growth in the solar industry in the coming decades will be in the developing world, where PV can not only be integrated into grids, but is also a great option for improving global equity and health by providing clean energy to communities which currently lack access to the grid. Recognizing this, India has committed to bringing 20 GW of solar power on-line by 2022.
 
Similarly, the Global Wind Energy Outlook (produced by the Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace International) was released in China earlier this month, as the Asian manufacturing powerhouses are rapidly becoming renewable energy leaders.
 
Let’s not let Canada get left behind.

Keith Stewart is climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada

NOTE: Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts solar could represent 4.3 per cent of U.S. electricity supply by 2020, in line with Greenpeace report. “Policy, rather than sunshine, will remain the U.S.’s greatest solar resource for the next few years,” said Milo Sjardin, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s U.S. head of research. “By the middle of this decade, however, the U.S. retail solar market will be driven by fundamental, unsubsidized competition, which should transform the U.S. into one of the world’s most dynamic solar markets.”

CCS, the cost, the risk, and the law of unintended consequences

When the Alberta government announced last week that it would be handing over $745 million to Shell Canada so it could move ahead with its Quest commercial-scale CCS project, and when the federal government said it would chip in another $120 million, it didn’t sit well with environmental and energy think-tank The Pembina Institute.

It’s not that Pembina is against developing this technology. What it doesn’t particularly like, and I can’t help but agree, is the fact that the Alberta and federal governments’ are covering two-thirds of the cost for this $1.35 billion project, which will be designed to capture CO2 from the steam methane units at the Scotford Upgrader in Fort Saskatchewan. It’s part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project, a joint venture among Shell (60 per cent), Chevron Canada (20 per cent) and Marathon Oil Sands (20 per cent).

Why, Pembina asks, are taxpayers covering the majority of a project’s costs when the companies benefitting from this public freebie are some of the most profitable companies in the country? Pembina is also opposed to the governments being “singularly focused” on end-of-pipe technologies, such as CCS, at the expense of investments in technologies and energy sources that reduce or altogether eliminate carbon emissions at the front of the pipe — renewables, energy efficiency, etc…

Rather than carry the load for the private sector, the government should be moving quickly to establish a cap-and-trade regime that would put a sufficient price on carbon, Pembina argues. Ultimately, polluters should cover the whole cost of CCS deployment and that will only happen when they factor in the cost of not doing so once carbon pricing hits their bottom line. Pembina also argues that the government shouldn’t be so narrowly focused on CCS that it ignores the much broader, and less risky opportunities out there. Continue reading CCS, the cost, the risk, and the law of unintended consequences