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Alberta’s Fossil Fuel Emissions

Syncrude's oil sands mine works, Mildred Lake, Alberta
Syncrude's oil sands mine works, Mildred Lake, Alberta

Alberta’s fossil fuel emissions are far larger than many people realize. They play a significant role in the overheating of our planet. This post kicks off a series that will explore the emissions profile of Alberta’s fossil fuel industry.

To clarify the magnitude of our emissions, I’ll talk about the following subjects.

Alberta’s Fossil Fuel Reserves

Our fossil fuels are quantifiable. There are specific amounts of crude oil, natural gas, and coal in the ground beneath our feet. I’ll share these numbers with you. To put our reserves in context, I’ll also look at fossil fuel reserves held by other countries.

Together, these numbers will answer two questions:

  • How much oil, gas and coal do we have?
  • How much oil, gas and coal do we have in relation to the rest of the world?

Alberta’s Fossil Fuel Production

Alberta produces known quantities of crude oil, natural gas, and coal. I’ll share these numbers with you as well. Again, to put our production in context, I’ll also share the production figures of other major producers around the world.

Together, these numbers will answer two questions:

  • How much oil, gas and coal do we produce?
  • How much oil, gas and coal do we produce in relation to the rest of the world?

CLIMATE, ENERGY AND ALBERTA’S FUTURE

Fossil fuels are damaging our home, our country and the entire world.
It’s time to talk about phase-out. It’s time to build a new province — an Alberta beyond fossil fuels.
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Canada Energy Regulator Scenarios

The Canada Energy Regulator (CER) models the possible future production of fossil fuels, using various projections of oil prices combined with varying levels of demand and the deployment of future technologies. The CER refers to its predictions as scenarios, and they are the best guide we have in estimating our future production of oil, gas and coal. CER scenarios also influence investors. Many companies use them to make investment decisions about fossil fuels.

You’d think that in a climate emergency, the CER would envision falling production of fossil fuels as the world goes through the energy transition. But that’s not the case. In fact, the CER currently envision rising production in Alberta. It also expects production to remain at high levels for roughly another decade.

An increase in production is not what we need right now. Nor is a long plateau at high rates of production. What’s more, the CER scenarios are at odds with forecasts issued by the International Energy Agency, which predicts a sharp and lasting decline in fossil fuel demand, beginning in the next few years.

The CER has announced that it will model a net-zero energy system for Canada in its 2023 update, but at this moment, the 2021 Energy Future report contains the CER’s scenarios of record.

Emission Intensity

The fuels we produce contain specific quantities of carbon that, when combusted, generate carbon dioxide (CO2). You can calculate the CO2 associated with the combustion of a barrel of oil, cubic metre of gas or tonne of coal.

There are two specific factors that determine emission intensity — energy content and emissions factor. Energy content is measured in joules. The emissions factor is measured in grams of carbon dioxide per joule of energy.

I’ll share these numbers with you. Then I’ll calculate the emissions from our fuels, using a specific equation:

units_of_fossil_fuel x energy_content x emissions_factor = GHG_emissions

where:

  • units of fossil_fuel = units of fuel produced — for example, barrels of oil or cubic metres of natural gas
  • energy_content = joules of energy per unit of fossil fuel
  • emissions_factor = grams of carbon per joule

The result of this equation answers the question: How much CO2 are we releasing into the atmosphere?

Greenhouse Gas Accounting Methods

Upstream emissions, downstream emissions, emissions scopes — what’s all that about? What’s the greenhouse gas protocol? And what do all these things have to do with Alberta?

Don’t worry. I’ll explain.

Sharing Is Daring

Help spark the debate. Share a bold, forward position on fossil fuels in Alberta — phase out.

Global Carbon Budget

In the United Nations Climate Conference of 2015, also known as COP21, the world’s nations resolved to limit global warming to 2℃, or 1.5℃ if possible. COP21 led to the Paris Agreement, which was negotiated by 196 nations. The treaty has been in force since November 2016. It’s legally binding. The Paris Agreement is not going away.

Scientists have calculated the carbon budget humanity would have to observe to comply with the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to 1.5℃. As time passes and CO2 levels continue to rise, the carbon budget has gradually shrunk. Recent calculations at the start of 2021 estimated our remaining carbon budget at 296 gigatonnes of CO2.

Although the United Nations Environment Programme recently warned that there was no longer any credible pathway for limiting global heating to 1.5℃, we will continue to use this goal in our discussions. A carbon budget still exists.

If Alberta produces fossil fuels as forecast by the Canada Energy Regulator from now until 2050, the emissions associated with our fossil fuels will take up about 12 per cent of that carbon budget. All that from a province of about 4 1/2 million people — just 0.06 per cent of the world’s current population.

In future posts in this series, I’ll share all the wonky details about Alberta’s fossil fuel emissions.

First up — Alberta Crude Oil.

Previous Article

Financial Risks in the Oil and Gas Industry

Next Article

The Social Cost of Carbon

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