Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama are expected to commit their two countries to slash methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by at least 40 per cent as part of a bilateral approach to curb climate change.
Two leaders will aim for an agreement on several climate initiatives, including stricter standards for heavy-duty vehicles, greater cross-border trade in clean electricity and efforts to reduce the release of methane, which is many times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming.
Oil and gas producers are already facing pressure to capture the methane that is vented from wells and leaks from field equipment such as pumps and gathering stations. Alberta has announced plans to reduce methane emissions from industry by 45 per cent from 2012 levels by 2025, while British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said last week that her province would match the Alberta effort.
There is widespread concern about the release of methane associated with the drilling, extraction and processing of unconventional shale gas and oil deposits. The full extent of methane emissions is not known, but some scientists argue that, without dramatic reductions, the use of natural gas for power generation is no better than coal from a climate perspective.
The methane issue is a black mark against the shale industry, which has contributed to a boom in North American oil and gas production, but has also sparked widespread resistance to the practice of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – that is used to extract the resources from shale rock.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – EPA is pursuing methane regulations that it says will cut emissions by 40 per cent to 45 per cent, while states such as Colorado and North Dakota have launched their own rules.
A report done for the EDF and the Calgary-based Pembina Institute concluded last year that Canada can dramatically reduce methane emissions at a cost of less than 1 cent per 1,000 cubic feet of gas produced, or the equivalent of $2.50 per tonne of carbon dioxide.