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Oil and gas sector asked to cut methane and air pollution with new regulations

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Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna, has announced regulations to reduce methane emissions and air pollution from Canada's oil and gas sector. In doing so, Canada is moving to catch up on the action already taken by states such as California, Colorado, and North Dakota. These regulations are part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent by 2025. 

According to the federal government, Canada's oil and gas sector is the country's largest emitter of climate-warming methane gas and a source of air pollutants known as volatile organic compounds, some of which are toxic to human health and are contributors to smog. 

Methane is the main part of natural gas that is used to heat homes and power factories. The proposed regulations will help Canada's oil and gas industry to conserve valuable natural gas that is now wasted and certain facilities, such as refineries, to reduce their volatile organic compound emissions. 

"These regulations will help producers save over $1.5 billion worth of natural gas between 2018 and 2035. By better detecting and patching leaks, companies will be able to save and sell that natural gas and do their part to fight climate change," McKenna stated. "And this will support more modern technology and good new jobs in the oil and gas sector. Our government knows that, through innovation and technology, we can reduce emissions while improving the health of Canadians."

Reducing methane emissions is one of the lowest cost actions Canada can take to reduce greenhouse gases. With these regulations, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by about 20 megatonnes a year, equal to removing about five million passenger vehicles from the road each year. Furthermore, this will help Canada to avoid the economic impact of global climate-change events such as drought and floods. 

Businesses expected to create new clean-tech jobs

Canadian businesses are part of this global shift towards a clean-growth economy. Using affordable and proven technologies to reduce pollution will create new clean-technology jobs for Canadians in the oil and gas industry. There are already over 170 Canadian companies providing clean-technology services, and they will hire more workers as these regulations are phased in. 

These proposed regulations will provide better air quality for Canadians living and working near certain oil and gas facilities. Cleaner air leads to healthier Canadians and fewer hospital visits for those with existing health conditions, like asthma and heart-related issues. 

"Reducing exposure to volatile organic compounds, a major contributor to air pollution, is important for protecting the health and safety of Canadians,' stated Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. "The Government of Canada is taking concrete action with the proposed regulations, which will reduce air pollution and make communities healthier for Canadians to live in. This initiative supports efforts to reduce the number of premature deaths linked to air pollution—estimated at 14 500 each year, in Canada." ‎

Under Canada's proposed approach, provinces and territories will have the flexibility to develop their own regulations to replace the federal ones if they can achieve similar outcomes. Canada remains committed to working with the provinces to establish equivalency agreements to avoid duplication. 

The Government of Canada is supporting this growth, through Budget 2017, by committing $200 million to support clean-technology research, development, and demonstration and adoption of clean technology in Canada's natural resources sectors. This investment builds on nearly $5 million in funding from Budget 2016 to help companies facilitate cost-effective methane mitigation through the Energy Innovation Program. 

Quick facts: Proposed methane regulations 

  • Methane is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for about 25 percent of the human-caused global warming we feel today, and it packs 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. 
  • The amount of natural gas that will be conserved as a result of these regulations will be greater than the amount of natural gas used in all the homes in the province of Saskatchewan, in a given year. 
  • This conserved gas is worth $1.6 billion. These savings help cover compliance costs for oil and gas companies.   
  • Between 2018 and 2035, it's estimated that the industry will have to spend less than three cents per thousand cubic feet of natural gas to comply with the new regulations. 
  • Canada's proposed methane regulations will be phased in between 2020 and 2023. 
  • The proposed methane regulations will also reduce emissions of harmful volatile organic compounds from oil and gas. 
  • Internationally, Canada is sharing its wealth of expertise, innovation, and clean technology to help developing countries achieve their climate-change goals and ‎reduce air pollution for a cleaner planet. Canada is currently co-chairing the Global Methane Initiative and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. 
  • Canada is also making significant financial investments of $14 million to support the work of Canadian companies working on methane-emission reductions in Mexico and Chile. Canada is also working with Mexico to support its commitment to developing methane regulations for oil and gas.

Quick facts: Proposed air pollution regulations 

  • Canada has already made excellent progress in reducing volatile organic compound emissions through regulations for the transportation sector and industries outside of the oil and gas sector. 
  • In total, 26 refineries, oil sands upgraders, and petrochemical facilities would be affected by these regulations. 
  • Under the proposed regulations, companies would need to regularly check and repair leaks from their equipment, use cleaner technologies to minimize emissions, monitor emissions at their property line, and report the results to the Government of Canada. 
  • The Government of Canada estimates the proposed regulations would result in at least 40 fewer premature deaths from 2017 to 2035. 
  • The proposed air pollution regulations would have the secondary effect of reducing methane from oil and gas facilities.

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