Natural gas will not lead Canada to a sustainable energy future

The Canadian government took advantage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the withdrawal of Russian natural gas exports to justify the increase in natural gas production in Canada. Much of the infrastructure needed to produce and transport this liquefied natural gas (LNG) would, however, take years to developlocking Canada into an emissions trajectory incompatible with the climate objective of 1.5 C.

How do decision makers talk about energy production alludes to governments’ plans for our transition from carbon-based energy sources like oil, coal and natural gas to renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. Stakeholders on both sides of the energy transition – fossil fuel companies and climate activists – are now fiercely competing to get them to use their preferred language.

Lately, the fossil fuel industry has begun to refer to natural gas as a “bridging fuel” or essential part of a low-carbon energy transition. Climatologists point out that natural gas bridges often lead nowhere. Dependence on natural gas can locking countries into fossil fuels, crowd out low-carbon technologies and stranding assets at risk — assets such as coal mines and hydrocarbon reserves that lose value as a result of energy transitions.

Our research sees this bridging narrative growing in Canada and making inroads in climate policy, and fossil fuel companies winning the battle over how we talk about natural gas expansion.

Deck Fuel Stories

There are at least two main narratives or frameworks of bridge fuel in Canada – each tied to a particular regional economic and political reality as well as the location of each region along its unique journey. decarbonization pathway.

The Turner Valley gas plant in Alberta is Western Canada’s premier natural gas processing and refining facility. Alberta is working to reduce emissions from the production and transportation of natural gas.

First, Alberta’s emerging conventional bridge fuel framework recognizes that natural gas-fired electricity generation contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, but positions it as a lower carbon alternative to coal. The Government of Alberta opposes a managed transition away from oil and gas and prefers instead focuses on reducing emissions released during the production and transport of natural gas.

Second, the bridge fuel discourse in British Columbia emphasizes the argument that expanding LNG production and exports could reduce emissions abroad – what we call the “Overall Bridge Narrative”. The global bridge framework positions the province’s LNG industry as a way for other countries like China to reduce their dependence on coal.

The lifecycle of methane emissions — emissions from production to consumption — of natural gas could actually result in higher overall emissions throughout the life cycle. This framing also neglects the importance underestimation of methane emissions from LNG production in Canada (and bypasses BC’s position as Canada’s largest coal exporter).

But the global bridge narrative has been incredibly enduring in British Columbia, so much so that the Canadian LNG Alliance argues the fossil gas industry can even help meet BC’s climate goals.

However, increased production will instead increase emissions not accounted for in BC climate policy.

Uncertain place of natural gas in regional climate plans

On the other side of the country, the discourse on natural gas is more discreet.

Despite the situation in Newfoundland and Labrador continued offshore oil and gas production and New Brunswick petroleum refining industry, the Atlantic provinces are less confident about the benefits of transitioning from natural gas. Instead, they focus on home heating change heating oil and diesel fuel to alternative methods such as heat pumps, although natural gas has emerged as a potential substitute for coal-fired electricity.

An orange ship enters a harbor
An offshore supply vessel enters port from the offshore oil producing fields of St. John’s, NL. Other Atlantic provinces, such as New Brunswick, are less confident about the benefits of transitioning from natural gas.

Other provinces like Manitoba that are less dependent on natural gas are also plan the energy transition without a natural gas bridge, while the Ontario bridge story positions natural gas primarily as an energy source for transportation and home heating.

The uncertain place of natural gas in regional climate plans affects the speed of future decarbonization in Canada and beyond.

Although oil and gas industry associations are powerful players, their economic interests are not always aligned with each other. And we see evidence of competing interests in the oil and gas industry in Canada. For example, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has yet to embrace the transitional fuel framework, dubbing the idea of ​​natural gas as “destination fuel”.

Meanwhile, other industry associations such as the Canadian Gas Association are more open to a wider range of transportation and heating fuels, not just natural gas. Proponents of the fight against fossil fuels can take advantage of these tensions to challenge the idea of ​​natural gas as a transition or destination fuel.

Climate delay

Whereas traditional climate denial has fallen out of political favor in Canada, our research reveals that climatic delay is indeed present in political discussions.

Climate lagging recognizes that climate action is needed but hinders rapid change, justify minimal action. Our research finds that bridge narratives reinforce climate lag by reassuring citizens that decarbonization will happen in the future while building support for natural gas production underway today.

For many provinces, natural gas expansion offers an enticing solution to the pain of transitioning away from oil, a solution that says we can increase oil and gas production and decarbonize our electricity, transport and accommodation without any loss.

However, decarbonization will have real costs for oil-producing provinces and successful policymaking must address these impacts. in the front. Talking about real costs also means establishing credible commitments on the anticipated pace of energy transitions.

Narratives about bridge fuels keep us thinking about how long our decarbonization journey will take. An honest conversation about our energy future must include proven non-emitting technologies, such as increase wind, solar and geothermal production and build inter-provincial transmission lines rather than locking in our dependence on natural gas.

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