Natural gas won't lead Canada to a sustainable energy future

Natural gas won’t lead Canada to a sustainable energy future

The Canadian government took advantage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the cessation of Russian natural gas exports to justify the increase in natural gas production in Canada. However, most of the necessary infrastructure to produce and transport this liquefied natural gas (LNG) will require years for developmenttying Canada to an emissions trajectory that incompatible with climate target 1.5 C.

How politicians talk about energy production alludes to plans by governments to shift from carbon-based energy sources such as oil, coal and natural gas to renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal. Stakeholders on both sides of the energy transition — fossil fuel companies and climate change activists — are now actively competing to get them to use their preferred language.

More recently, the fossil fuel industry has come to refer to natural gas as a “bridge fuel” or essential part transition to low-carbon energy. Climatologists point out that natural gas bridges can often lead nowhere. Dependence on natural gas can tie countries to fossil fuels, crowd out low-carbon technologies as well as risky assets – assets such as coal mines and hydrocarbon reserves that fall in value as a result of energy transfer.

Our research finds that this bridge narrative is growing in Canada and invading climate policy, with fossil fuel companies winning the battle over how we talk about natural gas expansion.

Bridge fuel stories

There are at least two main fuel bridge narratives or frames in Canada, each tied to a specific regional economic and political reality, and where each region is located on its unique path. decarbonization path.

The Turner Valley Gas Plant in Alberta is the first natural gas processing and processing facility in western Canada. In Alberta, the focus is on reducing emissions from natural gas production and transportation.
(Shutterstock)

First, the traditional bridge fuel framework that emerged in Alberta recognizes that natural gas electricity generation contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, but positions it as low carbon alternative to coal. The Alberta government opposes a managed transition from oil and gas to focuses on trying to cut emissions emitted during the extraction and transportation of natural gas.

Second, the intermediate fuel narrative in British Columbia focuses on the argument that expanding LNG production and exports can reduce emissions abroad — what we call the “global bridge narrative.” The bridge’s global structure positions the province’s LNG industry as a way for other countries, such as China, to reduce their dependence on coal.

The life cycle of methane emissions – emissions from production to consumption – from natural gas can actually lead to higher life cycle emissions overall. This formulation also misses the important underestimation of methane emissions from LNG production in Canada (and bypasses the BC position as leading exporter of Canadian coal).

But the global bridge narrative has been incredibly strong in British Columbia, so much so that the Canadian LNG Alliance argues that the fossil gas industry may even contribute to BC’s climate goals..

However, increasing production will instead add emissions. not included in British Columbia’s climate policy.

Uncertain Place of Natural Gas in Regional Climate Plans

On the other side of the country, the natural gas narrative is more subdued.

Despite Newfoundland and Labrador ongoing offshore oil and gas production and New Brunswick oil refining industryThe Atlantic provinces are less confident about the benefits of switching to natural gas. Instead, they focus on home heating switch from oil and diesel to alternative methods such as heat pumps, although natural gas has emerged as a potential replacement coal electricity.

Orange boat enters the port
An offshore supply vessel enters the port from offshore oil fields in St. John’s, the Netherlands. Other Atlantic provinces, such as New Brunswick, are less confident about the benefits of switching to natural gas.
(Shutterstock)

Other provinces, such as Manitoba, which are less dependent on natural gas, also plan to transition to an energy transition without the natural gas bridge, while the story of the Ontario bridge positions natural gas primarily as an energy source for transport and home heating.

The uncertain position of natural gas in regional climate plans is affecting the rate of future decarbonization in Canada and beyond.

While oil and gas industry associations are powerful players, their economic interests do not always align. And we see evidence of diverging interests in Canada’s oil and gas industry. For example, the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association has not yet adopted a fuel bridge, doubling down on the idea of ​​using natural gas as a Canadian fuel. target fuel.

At the same time, other industry associations, such as the Canadian Gas Association, are more open to a wider range of transport and heating fuelsand not just natural gas. Fossil fuel advocates can use this tension to challenge the idea of ​​natural gas as a transitional or target fuel.

climatic delay

Bye traditional climate denial lost political support in Canada, our research shows that climatic delay alive and well in political discussions.

Delaying Climate Change recognizes that action to combat climate change is necessary, but discourages rapid change, justification for minimal action. Our research shows that bridge narratives amplify climate change delays by convincing citizens that decarbonization will happen in the future and strengthening support for current natural gas production today.

For many provinces, the expansion of natural gas provides an enticing solution to oil phase-out, one that suggests we can increase oil and gas production and decarbonize our electricity, transportation and housing sectors without any loss.

However, decarbonization will have real costs for the oil-producing provinces, and successful policies need to be developed to address these effects. ahead. To talk about real costs is also to set credible commitments to the expected pace of the energy transition.

Intermediate fuel tales distract us from thinking about how long it will take us to decarbonise. An honest conversation about our energy future must include proven emission-free technologies such as increase in the production of wind, solar and geothermal energy as well as construction of interregional power lines instead of locking in our dependence on natural gas.

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