Canada is sitting on 12 “carbon bombs”. Here you are

A natural gas well in the Peace region of northeastern British Columbia above the Montney Play shale gas formation.  (Tara Carman/CBC - photo credit)

A natural gas well in the Peace region of northeastern British Columbia above the Montney Play shale gas formation. (Tara Carman/CBC – photo credit)

Just below the surface of BC and Alberta, in a rock formation known as the Montney Play, lies enough potential greenhouse gases to exceed Canada’s 2030 emissions target by 30 times.

It’s one of 12 fossil fuel reserves researchers in the journal Energy Policy have identified in Canada — so-called “carbon bombs,” each of which would release a billion tons or more of carbon into the atmosphere if their resources were mined and burned. This would be disastrous for the world’s efforts to slow global temperature rise, the authors argue.

But development in Montney will accelerate over the next few years, and government subsidies for the natural gas industry mean many of these projects are destined to make important contributions to the economy.

Kjell Kühne, the paper’s lead researcher and director of Leave it in the Ground, an initiative aimed at halting fossil fuel extraction, says Canada must find a way to halt these projects or risk losing our contribution to the planet to increase climate protection. related disasters.

“You’re basically betting that humanity will continue to burn down the house at the same rate to make money, and that’s a very risky bet,” he said.

Canada has the seventh highest amount of carbon stored in soil

Another try

Kuehne and others identified 425 “carbon bombs” around the world, and together they would blow the carbon budget needed to prevent global temperatures from rising twice more than 1.5C.

Researchers measured the carbon emissions that would result if each country extracted and burned its largest fossil fuel reserves.

Viewing these projects as “carbon bombs” includes the downstream emissions of the actual burning of the fuel, which is a better way of measuring climate impact than the Canadian government’s calculation of emissions, said Julia Levin, associate director of environmental defense, who is not involved was in research.

The Canadian government only reports carbon dioxide emitted in Canada. It doesn’t count the greenhouse gas emissions produced when these fossil fuels are exported and burned elsewhere.

“It allows countries — big oil and gas producers like Canada — to fully offload climate responsibility for the oil and gas that we’re pulling up from the ground,” Levin said.

Canada’s 12 carbon bombs would release about 39 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere

To avoid a catastrophic global temperature rise, Canada must “stop production by 2034,” she said.

“The science is clear.”

The Montney Game

Canada’s largest carbon bomb – and the sixth largest in the world – is the Montney Play.

The natural gas, which is mostly methane, is obtained through hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, a water-intensive process that releases methane into the atmosphere.

Methane retains 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide while in the atmosphere and is responsible for about 30 percent of the rise in global temperature since the Industrial Revolution, according to the International Energy Agency.

However, methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide; around 12 years instead of centuries. That means avoiding methane emissions is a potential emergency intervention to keep temperatures lower in the near future.

“Methane is currently responsible for half a degree of warming,” said Kühne. “Fracking is one of the worst things to do in the midst of a climate emergency.”

New development in the heart of the Montney has been halted since 2021 since a BC Supreme Court case between the BC government and the Blueberry River First Nations, whose traditional territory overlaps much of the formation, was concluded. A judge ruled that the cumulative effects of resource development violated their rights under Contract 8.

An agreement reached between the First Nation and the province earlier this year means the First Nation has more control over what happens on its land.

The Montney Play encompasses approximately three quarters of Blueberry River’s traditional territory

This does not mean that natural gas production in the region will cease. While companies are restricted from building new rigs in some areas, new wells can still be drilled at existing locations. The pads already in place at the Montney are about a quarter of their capacity, according to a study by Allan Chapman in the Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection.

Natural gas is a major driver of the economy in Northeast British Columbia, providing thousands of jobs and an important source of revenue for the province.

That’s why Dan Davies, MLA of Peace River North and member of the opposition BC Liberal Party, says it’s important the industry keeps going and even growing because people still need it.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Natural gas heats homes in the region during cold winters, he pointed out.

“It’s really the heart of Northeast BC, the oil and gas industry,” he said, adding that oil and gas license fees pay for important public services like schools and hospitals.

Davies argues that natural gas from Canada can be an environmental win if it helps countries like India and China to phase out coal. While natural gas has lower emissions than coal, switching from one fossil fuel to another will not deliver the emission reductions needed to avoid a temperature rise of more than 1.5°C, according to the IEA.

Canada’s 12 carbon bombs are located almost exclusively in BC and Alberta

Two of the other carbon bombs in Canada are natural gas formations, five are in Alberta’s oil sands, and three are metallurgical coal mines, meaning the coal is used to make steel rather than generate electricity.

Of the two remaining gas formations, production in the Liard Basin was suspended in 2021, according to the BC Energy Regulator.

Two of the three coal mines have yet to start mining.

Calgary-based Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. is invested in at least two of the projects, including the Montney Play. The company did not respond to multiple interview requests from CBC News.

“A climate clown”

Levin and Kühne agree that halting these projects is important if Canada is to meet its climate goals.

But instead of stopping them, the federal and state governments are subsidizing them.

The provincial governments of Alberta and British Columbia provided more than $1 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel companies in fiscal year 2021-22, according to a report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Natural Resources Canada spokesman Keean Nembhard told CBC News the federal government was committed to ending “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies this year.

When asked specifically which subsidies were deemed inefficient, Nembhard said there is no internationally agreed list of inefficient subsidies, but officials at Canada’s Department of Finance and Environment and Climate Change are working on a tool to determine what that means in one Canadian context.

“To date, Canada’s efforts to reform inefficient fossil fuel subsidies have resulted in nine tax measures that benefited the fossil fuel sector being phased out or streamlined,” he said in a statement.

But Levin says the word “inefficient” is essentially meaningless in this context.

“Inefficient has no definition,” she said. “The word was used as a loophole to allow the G20 countries to do whatever they wanted.”

Kuehne says ending subsidies for fossil fuel projects is important to give the world a chance to curb rising temperatures around the globe.

“The Canadian government is more of a climate clown than a climate leader,” said Kühne. “It has the highest per capita emissions in the world and gives out subsidies [the] fossil fuel industry.”


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