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Canadian energy producers among worlds’ best at limiting gas flaring

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The Nahr Bin Omar oil field and facility near Iraq’s southern port city of Basra on February 11, 2022. In the oilfields of southern Iraq, billions of cubic feet of gas literally go up in smoke, burnt off on flare stacks for want of the infrastructure to capture and process it. (Photo by HUSSEIN FALEH/AFP via Getty Images)

From the Canadian Energy Centre

International comparisons of gas flaring among top oil producers

Canada contributed just 0.7% of the global amount of gas flaring despite being the world’s fourth-largest oil producer

By Ven Venkatachalam and Lennie Kaplan

This Fact Sheet analyzes the upstream oil industry’s record on flaring in Canada relative to other top oil-producing countries. Gas flaring is the burning off of the natural gas that is generated in the process of oil extraction and production. Flaring is relevant because it is a source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) (see Appendix).

In 2022, 138,549 million cubic meters (m3) (or 139 billion cubic meters (bcm)) of flared gases were emitted worldwide, creating 350 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. Canada is a significant oil producer; it has the third-largest proven crude oil reserves and is the fourthlargest crude oil producer in the world (Natural Resources Canada, undated), and so contributes to flaring.

Flaring comparisons

This Fact Sheet uses World Bank data to provide international comparisons of flaring. It also draws on U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) crude oil production data to compare flaring among the top 10 crude oil producing countries.

Table 1 shows gas flaring volumes in 2012 and 2022. In absolute terms, Russia recorded more flaring than any other country at 25,495 million m3 (25.4 bcm) in 2022, which was 1,628 million m3 (7 per cent) higher than in 2012.

The four countries that are the top GHG emitters through flaring (Russia, Iraq, Iran, and Algeria) accounted for 50 per cent of global gas flaring in 2022.

At 945 million m3, Canada was the eighth lowest flarer in 2022 (23rd spot out of the top 30 countries). It decreased its flaring emissions by 320 million m3 from the 2012 level of 1,264 million m3, a 25 per cent drop.

In 2022, Canada contributed just 0.7 per cent of the global amount of gas flaring despite being the world’s fourth largest oil producer (see Table 1).

Sources: World Bank (undated)

Flaring declined worldwide between 2012 and 2022

Figure 1 shows the change in flaring volumes between 2012 and 2022. Nine countries flared more in 2022 than in 2012, while 21 countries flared less. In the last decade, the global flaring volume decreased by 3 per cent.

  • The three countries that most significantly increased flaring between 2012 and 2022 were the Republic of the Congo (65 per cent), Iran (56 per cent), and Iraq (41 per cent).
  • The three countries that most significantly decreased flaring between 2012 and 2022 were Uzbekistan (-76 per cent), Columbia (-75 per cent) and Kazakhstan (-74 per cent).
  • As noted earlier, flaring fell by 25 per cent in Canada between 2012 and 2022.
Sources: World Bank (undated)

Comparing flaring to increased production

The decreases in flaring in Canada between 2012 and 2022 shown in Table 1 and Figure 1 understate the magnitude of the decline in flaring in the country. That is because Canada’s crude oil production increased by 45 per cent in that period, even as absolute flaring decreased by 25 per cent (see Table 2).

Canada compares very favourably with the United States, which increased crude oil production by 82 per cent and decreased flaring by 16 per cent.

Sources: World Bank (undated) and EIA (2023)

Largest oil producers and flaring intensity

To fully grasp how much more effective Canada has been than many other oil producers in reducing flaring, Table 3 compares both flaring intensity (gas flared per unit of oil production) and crude oil production among the top 10 oil producing countries (which account for 73 per cent of the world oil production).

Canada is the fourth-largest producer of crude oil, and its gas flaring intensity declined by 48 per cenft between 2012 and 2022. Four of the top 10 oil producers witnessed their flaring intensity increase between 2012 and 2022.

Sources: World Bank (undated) and EIA (2023)

Conclusion

Gas flaring contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is possible for countries to both increase their oil production and still reduce flaring. Canada is one noteworthy example of a country that has significantly reduced flaring not only compared to its increased production of crude oil, but also in absolute terms.


Appendix

Background

Flaring and venting are two ways in which an oil or natural gas producer can dispose of waste gases. Venting is the intentional controlled release of uncombusted gases directly to the atmosphere, and flaring is combusting natural gas or gas derived from petroleum in order to dispose of it.¹ As Matthew R. Johnson and Adam R. Coderre noted in their 2012 paper on the subject, flaring in the petroleum industry generally falls within three broad categories:

  • Emergency flaring (large, unplanned, and very short-duration releases, typically at larger downstream facilities or off-shore platforms);
  • Process flaring (intermittent large or small releases that may last for a few hours or a few days as occurs in the upstream industry during well-test flaring to assess the size of a reservoir or at a downstream plant during a planned process blowdown); and
  • Production flaring (may occur continuously for years while oil is being produced).

To track GHGs from flaring and venting, Environment Canada (2016) defines such emissions as:

  • Fugitive emissions: Unintentional releases from venting, flaring, or leakage of gases from fossil fuel production and processing, iron and steel coke oven batteries, or CO2 capture, transport, injection, and storage infrastructure.
  • Flaring emissions: Controlled releases of gases from industrial activities from the combustion of a gas or liquid stream produced at a facility, the purpose of which is not to produce useful heat or work. This includes releases from waste petroleum incineration, hazardous emission prevention systems, well testing, natural gas gathering systems, natural gas processing plant operations, crude oil production, pipeline operations, petroleum refining, chemical fertilizer production, and steel production.
  • Venting emissions: Controlled releases of a process or waste gas, including releases of CO2 associated with carbon capture, transport, injection, and storage; from hydrogen production associated with fossil fuel production and processing; of casing gas; of gases associated with a liquid or a solution gas; of treater, stabilizer, or dehydrator off-gas; of blanket gases; from pneumatic devices that use natural gas as a driver; from compressor start-ups, pipelines, and other blowdowns; and from metering and regulation station control loops.

1. Many provinces regulate flaring and venting including Alberta (Directive 060) British Columbia (Flaring and Venting Reduction Guideline), and Saskatchewan (S-10 and S-20). Newfoundland & Labrador also has regulations that govern offshore flaring.

Notes

This CEC Fact Sheet was compiled by Ven Venkatachalam and Lennie Kaplan at the Canadian Energy Centre: www.canadianenergycentre.ca. All percentages in this report are calculated from the original data, which can run to multiple decimal points. They are not calculated using the rounded figures that may appear in charts and in the text, which are more reader friendly. Thus, calculations made from the rounded figures (and not the more precise source data) will differ from the more statistically precise percentages we arrive at using source data. The authors and the Canadian Energy Centre would like to thank and acknowledge the assistance of an anonymous reviewer in reviewing the data and research for this Fact Sheet.

References (All links live as of September 23, 2023)

Alberta Energy Regulator (2022), Directive 060: Upstream Petroleum Industry Faring, Incinerating, and Venting <https://bit.ly/3AMYett>; BC Oil and Gas Commission (2021), Flaring and Venting Reduction Guideline, version 5.2 <https://bit.ly/3CWRa0i>; Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (2007), Offshore Newfoundland and Labrador Gas Flaring Reduction <https://bit.ly/3RhKpKu>; D&I Services (2010), Saskatchewan Energy and Resources: S-10 and S-20 <https://bit.ly/3TBrVGJ>; Johnson, Matthew R., and Adam R. Coderre (2012), Compositions and Greenhouse Gas Emission Factors of Flared and Vented Gas in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 62, 9: 992-1002 <https://bit.ly/3cJRqPd>; Environment Canada (2016), Technical Guidance on Reporting Greenhouse Gas Emissions/Facility Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Program <https://bit.ly/3CVQR5C>; Natural Resources Canada (Undated), Oil Resources <https://bit.ly/3oWWhW0>; U.S. Energy Information Administration (undated), Petroleum and Other Liquids <https://bit.ly/2Ad6S9i>; World Bank (Undated), Global Gas Flaring Data <https://bit.ly/3zXuxGX>.

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Canadian Energy Centre

What’s next? With major projects wrapping up, what does Canada’s energy future hold

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From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Mario Toneguzzi

‘This is the first time Canada will enter the global marketplace as a global player, so it is an incredibly important change for the industry’

With the recent completions of the Trans Mountain expansion and Coastal GasLink pipelines, and the looming completion of LNG Canada within the next year, there are few major energy projects with the green light for one of the world’s largest and most responsible energy producers.

Which leaves a lingering question: In a world that has put a premium on energy security, what’s next for Canada?

Heather Exner-Pirot, a senior fellow and director of the natural resources, energy and environment program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said Natural Resources Canada’s major projects inventory “has been in a pretty sharp decline since 2015, which is concerning.”

“It’s not just oil and gas but also mining, also electricity . . . It’s the overall context for investment in Canada,” said Exner-Pirot, who is also a special adviser to the Business Council of Canada.

“When we look at BC, we see TMX, Coastal GasLink, very soon LNG Canada will be finishing up. That’s probably in the order of $100 billion of investment that that province will lose.

“So you do start to think about what happens next. But there are some things on the horizon. I think that’s part of it. Other LNG projects where maybe it wasn’t politically popular, it wasn’t a social license, and maybe the labour force was also constrained, and now is opening opportunities.”

recent analysis conducted by Exner-Pirot found that between 2015 and 2023, the number of energy and natural resource major projects completed in Canada dropped by 37 per cent. And those that managed to be completed often faced significant delays and cost overruns.

One notable project Exner-Pirot expects to fill the void is Ksi Lisims LNG, which is being developed on the northwest coast of Canada to export low-carbon LNG to markets in Asia. The project represents a unique alliance between the Nisga’a Nation, Rockies LNG and Western LNG.

Ksi Lisims LNG is a proposed floating LNG export facility located on a site owned by the Nisga’a Nation near the community of Gingolx in British Columbia.

The project will have capacity to produce 12 million tonnes of LNG per year, destined for markets in the Pacific basin, primarily in Asia where demand for cleaner fuels to replace coal continues to grow.

Rendering of the proposed Ksi Lisims floating LNG project. Image courtesy Ksi Lisims LNG

As well, the second phase of the LNG Canada export terminal in Kitimat, B.C. shows increasing signs of moving forward, which would roughly double its annual production capacity from 14 million tonnes to 26 million tonnes, Exner-Pirot added.

While nearby, Cedar LNG, the world’s first Indigenous-owned LNG export facility, is closing in on the finish line with all permits in place and early construction underway. When completed, the facility will produce up to three million tonnes of LNG annually, which will be able to reach customers in Asia, and beyond.

According to the International Energy Agency, the world is on track to use more oil in 2024 than last year’s record-setting mark. Demand for both oil and natural gas is projected to see gradual growth through 2050, based on the most likely global scenario.

Kevin Birn, chief analyst for Canadian oil markets at S&P Global, said despite the Trans Mountain expansion increasing Canada’s oil export capacity by 590,000 barrels per day, conversations have already begun around the need for more infrastructure to export oil from western Canada.

“The Trans Mountain pipeline, although it’s critical and adds the single largest uplift in oil capacity in one swoop, we see production continue to grow, which puts pressures on that egress system,” he said.

Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

Birn said Canada remains a major global player on the supply side, being the world’s fourth-largest producer of oil and fifth-largest producer of natural gas.

“This is a really important period for Canada. These megaprojects, they’re generational. These are a once-in-a-generation kind of thing,” Birn said.

“For Canada’s entire history of being an oil and gas producer, it’s been almost solely reliant on one single export market, which is the United States. That’s been beneficial, but it’s also caused problems for Canada in that reliance from time to time.

“This is the first time Canada will enter the global marketplace as a global player, so it is an incredibly important change for the industry.”

Exner-Pirot said Canada has the ability to become a major exporter on the energy front globally, at a time when demand is accelerating.

“We have open water from B.C. to our allies in Asia . . . It’s a straight line from Canada to its allies. This is a tremendous advantage,” she said, noting the growth of data centres and AI is expected to see demand for reliable energy soar.

“We are seeing growing electricity demand after decades of plateauing because our fridges got more energy efficient and our washers and dryers got more energy efficient. Now we’re starting to see for the first time in a long time more electricity demand even in developed countries. These are all drivers.”

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Canadian Energy Centre

Trans Mountain completion shows victory of good faith Indigenous consultation

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Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Joseph Quesnel

‘Now that the Trans Mountain expansion is finally completed, it will provide trans-generational benefits to First Nations involved’

While many are celebrating the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project for its benefit of delivering better prices for Canadian energy to international markets, it’s important to reflect on how the project demonstrates successful economic reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

It’s easy to forget how we got here.

The history of Trans Mountain has been fraught with obstacles and delays that could have killed the project, but it survived. This stands in contrast to other pipelines such as Energy East and Keystone XL.

Starting in 2012, proponent Kinder Morgan Canada engaged in consultation with multiple parties – including many First Nation and Métis communities – on potential project impacts.

According to Trans Mountain, there have been 73,000 points of contact with Indigenous communities throughout Alberta and British Columbia as the expansion was developed and constructed. The new federal government owners of the pipeline committed to ongoing consultation during early construction and operations phase.

Beyond formal Indigenous engagement, the project proponent conducted numerous environmental and engineering field studies. These included studies drawing on deep Indigenous input, such as traditional ecological knowledge studies, traditional land use studies, and traditional marine land use studies.

At each stage of consultation, the proponent had to take into consideration this input, and if necessary – which occurred regularly – adjust the pipeline route or change an approach.

With such a large undertaking, Kinder Morgan and later Trans Mountain Corporation as a government entity had to maintain relationships with many Indigenous parties and make sure they got it right.

Trans Mountain participates in a cultural ceremony with the Shxw’ōwhámél First Nation near Hope, B.C. Photograph courtesy Trans Mountain

It was the opposite of the superficial “checklist” form of consultation that companies had long been criticized for.

While most of the First Nation and Métis communities engaged in good faith with Kinder Morgan, and later the federal government, and wanted to maximize environmental protections and ensure they got the best deal for their communities, environmentalist opponents wanted to kill the project outright from the start.

After the government took over the incomplete expansion in 2018, green activists were transparent about using cost overruns as a tactic to scuttle and defeat the project. They tried to make Trans Mountain ground zero for their anti-energy divestment crusade, targeting investors.

It is an amazing testament to importance of Trans Mountain that it survived this bad faith onslaught.

In true eco-colonialist fashion, the non-Indigenous activist community did not care that the consultation process for Trans Mountain project was achieving economic reconciliation in front of their eyes. They were “fair weather friends” who supported Indigenous communities only when they opposed energy projects.

They missed the broad support for the Trans Mountain expansion. As of March 2023, the project had signed agreements with 81 Indigenous communities along the proposed route worth $657 million, and the project has created over $4.8 billion in contracts with Indigenous businesses.

Most importantly, Trans Mountain saw the maturing of Indigenous capital as Indigenous coalitions came together to seek equity stakes in the pipeline. Project Reconciliation, the Alberta-based Iron Coalition and B.C.’s Western Indigenous Pipeline Group all presented detailed proposals to assume ownership.

Although these equity proposals have not yet resulted in a sale agreement, they involved taking that important first step. Trans Mountain showed what was possible for Indigenous ownership, and now with more growth and perhaps legislative help from provincial and federal governments, an Indigenous consortium will be eventually successful when the government looks to sell the project.

If an Indigenous partner ultimately acquires an equity stake in Trans Mountain, observers close to the negotiations are convinced it will be a sizeable stake, well beyond 10 per cent. It will be a transformative venture for many First Nations involved.

Now that the Trans Mountain expansion is finally completed, it will provide trans-generational benefits to First Nations involved, including lasting work for Indigenous companies. It will also demonstrate the victory of good faith Indigenous consultation over bad faith opposition.

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