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‘May not align:’ Guilbeault pens letter to Suncor over oilsands mine expansion GHGs


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By Bob Weber

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has warned Canada’s biggest oilsands producer that its planned mine expansion may not meet climate targets.

In a letter released Wednesday to Mark Little, the head of Suncor Energy Inc., Guilbeault says the greenhouse gases that would be released by the company’s proposed Base Mine expansion in northern Alberta may conflict with the government’s carbon-reduction goals.

“Emissions at this level may not align with the pace and scale of emissions reductions required to achieve our targets,” the letter says.

“I am of the opinion that the project, as currently proposed, would likely cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction.”

Guilbeault also said the government is reviewing how fossil fuel projects are evaluated against each other.

“The government will develop guidance for how oil production projects subject to review … should demonstrate that their emissions will be ‘best in class,'” his letter says.

That statement came as the federal Liberals approved the Bay du Nord oil project off the coast of Newfoundland, which is projected to emit carbon dioxide at about one-eighth the rate of Suncor’s proposal.

Suncor has been before the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada since July 2020 for its proposed extension. The project near Fort McMurray would continue to supply Suncor’s upgraders with 25 years’ worth of bitumen after the current mine is depleted.

Earlier this week, the company asked the agency for an extra nine months to file information required for the review. Suncor made the request, according to documents on the agency’s website, to better align the project with Suncor’s goals to be carbon-neutral by 2050 as well as the government’s emissions reduction plan.

“Some things have changed since we submitted the detailed project description,” Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said in an email.

“We want the opportunity to … review government initiatives and meet the requirements set out by the (assessment agency). We want the best project possible.”

The letter from Guilbeault signals the government is serious about reducing emissions without necessarily reducing oil production, said Martin Olszynski, a University of Calgary law professor with long expertise in energy regulation. He points out the government is expected to soon reveal a cap on total emissions from the oil and gas sector.

“The question then becomes, Where are you going to get the best bang for your buck,” he said.

It will be tough for oilsands projects to match the low carbon intensity of offshore production, Olszynski said, even if the carbon is stored underground or the energy to run them is carbon-free.

“Even with (carbon capture and storage) and small modular reactors, with all that money and risk you still don’t get near the incredibly low GHG you get from the offshore. The business case seems pretty obvious.”

Olszynski adds the government has yet to define what “best in class” means — whether oilsands projects will be compared with each other or if all oil developments will be included.

Seetal said the mine extension project can be modified to meet both the government’s new policy environment and the company’s increased climate-change ambition.

“We’re taking more time to improve the project in alignment with our strategy which includes meeting our emissions reduction ambition to be net-zero … and meet the additional requirements set out by the (impact assessment) agency over the past year.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

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Saskatchewan entrepreneur says government thwarted his ag-plastics recycling business

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Dallon Leger thought he was part of the solution. 

The entrepreneur from Yorkton, Sask., about 190 kilometres northeast of Regina, says he collected more than 1.8 million kilograms of used grain bags over the past few years, helping his neighbours deal with their mounting plastic problem.

Leger’s business, EcoGenX, transported the grain bags to a company in the United States that would recycle them. The company would turn the bags into various agricultural plastic products, including new grain bags. EcoGenX would then sell the recycled product in Saskatchewan.

But he says the Saskatchewan government has stifled his business through rules he believes are unfair.

The province recently took Leger to court and won, fining him for not following the province’s grain bag regulations. It effectively forced him to close his business.

“I’m not perfect, no entrepreneur is, but my government was my biggest hurdle,” said Leger, a farm worker, in an interview earlier this month. “That should never have happened, not when climate change and environment as a whole is the hot topic right now.”

Leger pleaded guilty in late April for failing to comply with the government’s Agricultural Packaging Waste Stewardship Regulations, therefore violating a section of Saskatchewan’s Environment and Management Protection Act. 

Court determined he did not operate a product stewardship program that was approved by the environment minister. He was fined $580 and must pay $10,604 to Cleanfarms, a regulated non-profit that also collects grain bags in the province.

Leger explained his lawyer advised him to plead guilty because it wouldn’t have been a winning fight. 

However, he said the province’s position is still not right.

“How can you charge me under the environmental act, find me guilty of anything, when I did no harm to the environment? That says a lot,” he said. “I felt I did something good.”

The Saskatchewan government regulates the industry, requiring grain bag sellers to participate in an approved product stewardship program.

EcoGenX didn’t operate under an approved program.

Environment Minister Dana Skoropad said the legislation is meant to ensure agricultural plastics recycling is sustainable in Saskatchewan. 

“The community of sellers of these products is quite small in Saskatchewan, so it’s certainly important that all first sellers be compliant with the regulations and a level playing field be existent,” Skoropad said. “And that ensures the financial stability and sustainability of the program.” 

Cleanfarms is the only approved product stewardship program in Saskatchewan, which means grain bag sellers must work with Cleanfarms or get their own program rubber-stamped if they want to participate. 

Under the Cleanfarms program, farmers can deliver bags to more than 40 collection points set up by the organization.

Sellers collect an environment handling fee when they sell the bags. The sellers then remit those fees to Cleanfarms so the organization can operate its collection sites.

Leger didn’t remit environmental handling fees to Cleanfarms when he sold bags, arguing he didn’t need to because his company did all the work in partnership with the American recycler. 

“I would travel anywhere in the province, roll up their bags. I would do all the work,” he said. “I had the best answer for this fairly large problem —  like it’s a significant amount of plastic.”

The $10,604 Leger is required to pay to Cleanfarms represents the environmental handling fees he was supposed to pay to the organization. 

Skoropad said he’s open to working with anyone who would meet the requirements in the legislation. 

He said Leger did not submit a proposal.

However, Leger said he tried to work with the provincial government but was told the province was not interested in another operator. 

“I’m told, ‘We have to focus on the sustainability of the current approved program,'” he said. “Well, I’m sorry I’m a threat to this non-profit organization. That’s kind of what a business is meant to do, is grow and succeed.”

Leger accused the government of siding with Cleanfarms, pointing to past lobbying by CropLife Canada, a sister organization of Cleanfarms. 

In 2016, CropLife representatives lobbied Saskatchewan ministers about “promoting the benefits of industry stewardship programs.” It noted Cleanfarms had been active in the province. 

CropLife, which is based in Ontario, lobbied former environment minister Scott Moe, who’s now premier, and former agriculture minister Lyle Stewart. Ted Menzies, CropLife’s former president, was among those lobbying. Menzies had previously served as a Conservative MP and cabinet minister before moving to CropLife. 

In 2018, the province’s Agricultural Packaging Waste Stewardship Regulations came into effect. 

“I believe this created a monopoly and gives an out-of-province organization 100 per cent of the money that Saskatchewan farmers pay,” Leger said.

Skorpopad denied the accusations.  

“Cleanfarms submitted an application to be a product stewardship operator and that would be the extent of my knowledge of that,” he said. “As I said before, we’re open to working with anyone who would meet the requirements of the regulations on this program.”

Skoropad said he doesn’t know if there have been previous applications to become an operator. He said there are 14 regulated grain bag sellers in Saskatchewan. 

Leger said he has plans to continue fighting his case. 

“I was demonized, so to me that’s worth continuing to fight for and why I didn’t give up.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2023. 

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press

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Drying conditions return in Alberta, crews see more intense fire activity

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