Canada's oil and gas industry emits far more methane into the atmosphere than was previously known, according to two reports from environmental groups that are urging Ottawa to speed up plans to regulate reductions.
Working with researchers from St. Francis Xavier University, the David Suzuki Foundation said Wednesday that methane emissions from oil and gas operations in British Columbia are 2.5 times greater than the provincial government estimates, and may be even higher. Separately, Toronto-based Environmental Defence said Wednesday that a recent field survey in Alberta found the industry was leaking and venting far more methane than is commonly assumed.
Methane is the basic component of natural gas and is considered a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it lasts for a shorter duration in the atmosphere.
During a meeting with Barack Obama last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to force industry to reduce its methane emissions by 40 per cent to 45 per cent by 2025, and his government is expected to release draft regulations in the coming weeks. The Alberta government is also working on regulations to require a similar reduction.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) rejected the studies' findings on Wednesday, adding that producers are committed to emission reductions.
"Industry does not support the findings or recommendations of these studies due to their limited scope and misrepresentation of reporting mechanisms currently in place," CAPP spokeswoman Chelsie Klassen said.
"Our industry recognizes the opportunity for better performance on methane emissions and has been addressing this by working with regulators and governments on ways to further improve performance at new and existing installations," she added. However, CAPP has argued the regulations could cost producers "hundreds of millions of dollars" if implemented without concern for their economic impact.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna acknowledged last week that regulations won't force companies to cut emissions until 2020, two years later than had been anticipated. Prior to that, the industry will undertake voluntary action. However, she said Canada will still meet its commitment to cut those emissions by 40 per cent to 45 per cent by 2025.
"Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is the lowest cost GHG reduction opportunity in the energy sector," her spokeswoman, Marie-Pacale des Rosiers, said in an e-mail Wednesday.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has promised to roll back methane regulations announced by Mr. Obama, and reverse plans for new rules.
Environmental groups say the studies reveal Canada's methane problem is urgent, and Ottawa should act more aggressively.
"Canada's response to this problem has to be much stronger in order to cut the much larger source of methane pollution," Suzuki Foundation policy director Ian Bruce said in an interview. "This has got to be a top priority because methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and is obviously a much bigger part of Canada's carbon footprint than we had realized."
He said regulations should take effect in "months not years."
Industry has been seeking to minimize the methane leakage problem even as it lobbies governments to move slowly on regulation, said Dale Marshall, national policy director for Environmental Defence.