Ottawa will push back the start date of its announced plan to cut methane emissions from the upstream oil and gas sector by at least two years. The federal government says the delay is a legitimate response to challenges faced by the industry. Critics fear it is the thin edge of a wedge that will further distance Canada from its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target.
In March 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau and then-United States President Barack Obama jointly announced an ambitious plan to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas by as much as 45% below 2012 levels by 2025. However, since the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States, regulators in that country have begun unwinding methane regulations.
A requirement that oil and gas producers begin tracking and reporting methane emissions has been rescinded and, on April 18, 2017, the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency imposed a 90-day delay on a requirement that oil and gas companies begin monitoring and, in some cases, reducing methane emissions.
Canadian producers have complained that Ottawa’s proposed timetable — a requirement for leak detection and repair beginning in 2018 and full implementation by 2020 — would be too burdensome on an industry already struggling under low commodity prices and facing stiff competition from the United States.
Ottawa’s response, initially reported by the CBC and later confirmed by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, will be to move the starting blocks, but not the finish line. The initial stages of implementation will be delayed until at least 2020 — after the next federal election — but the objective of reducing emissions by 40% to 45% below 2012 levels by 2025 will remain.
Critics of the delay worry that this concession to the oil and gas industry is another crack in the environmentalist armour of the Liberal government after its approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. They argue that regulating upstream methane emissions from oil and gas is among the easiest and most cost effective ways of moving Canada toward its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction target.