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One road to renewable energy, one road to climate instability

To Geoff Morrison
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, B.C. Operations Manger

Thank you for your response to B.C.’s natural gas play: a climate charade. We share the value of science based discussions. However your letter sidestepped the article’s pivotal point: Regardless of whether natural gas is incrementally better than oil or coal, experts from some the world’s major institutions state that a major shift to natural gas will push the climate crisis into dangerous territory and will derail the real solutions along the way.

The problem with natural gas, according to Faith Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, is that low gas prices would put renewable projects on the shelf. Reliance on natural gas will cause 3.5 degrees of warming, well past the two degree maximum level of warming beyond which scientists predict will trigger run away climate effects.   

A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) goes further. It concludes, “Our results show that the substitution of gas for coal as an energy source results in increased rather than decreased global warming for many decades.” According to this study, methane is so much stronger than carbon in its greenhouse impact that in the first few decades after emission, if it were to actually replace coal (rather than the more likely outcomes of “piling on” coal and oil, or replacing renewables), there would be extra warming through 2050 and a minimal reduction (under 0.1 degrees C) in the 100 year time frame.

Recent modeling found that technologies that offer modest reductions in greenhouse gases, such as natural gas, cannot substantially reduce climate risk in the next 100 years. Risk reduction “will depend on rapid and massive deployment of some mix of conservation, wind, solar, and nuclear, and possibly carbon capture and storage.”

Principled advocacy of natural gas would include a price on carbon high enough to provide an even playing field with renewable energy (which can solve the climate crisis) and reflect the huge cost to society of fossil fuels, including natural gas, (which cannot). A carbon price would create economic certainty for both the fossil fuel industry and the renewable energy industry, enabling a transition to safe energy sources by 2050, as required by BC legislation.

I agree with you that independent research into the amount of methane that leaks directly from shale gas sites in Canada is essential for determining whether Canadian natural gas is worse for the climate than coal. It could become relevant if and when there is a meaningful price on carbon because that price will favour the less damaging alternative.
Without international agreements or a price on carbon, claims that gas will displace higher carbon fuels in other countries are just platitudes. The studies cited above, by the world’s most respected institutions and scientists, have reached the opposite conclusion.

These agencies, unlike the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), are not directly funded by the oil and gas industry, an industry which has been accused of launching “an all out assault on renewable energy.”

Less importantly, “Climate charade” did not rely on the Howarth study. It stated that it “opened a field of controversy” and that the “bulk of research is against shale gas.”

The links in the article provide the basis for that statement. The study you cite as the source of the 3.8% figure for Canadian shale gas life cycle emissions is not readily available on the web. It can only be found by registering on the GHGenius website hosted by Natural Resources Canada. It appears to compile data supplied by industry groups such as yours. I look forward to reviewing the report and thank you for bringing it to my attention.  

Voters should be given a say in B.C.’s inevitable choice between its legislated carbon goals and Premier Clark’s promotion of natural gas drilling.

The industry claim that natural gas is a “transition fuel” blindfolds citizens to the fact that we are at a fork in the road in terms of energy infrastructure. Fossil fuel industry lobby groups are working hard to position natural gas (fossil methane) as a central ingredient in a nonexistent "plan" to rescue the world from the other climate destroying products they promote. Meanwhile, objective agencies with requisite expertise are abandoning the notion that natural gas is a “transition fuel.”

One road leads toward a renewable energy infrastructure that will serve B.C. for decades to come while promoting a stable climate. The other road leads to more fossil fuel based infrastructure that will contribute to runaway climate change if it is not abandoned. We owe our children an honest transition out of the climate crisis and we have this one chance to get it right.

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