Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrive for a dinner in Toronto on Monday, August 22, 2022. A new report suggests Canada should be doing more to make its abundant natural gas riches a key component of the world’s effort to move to a lower-carbon future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
By James McCarten in Washington
As the world struggles to find the right balance between a carbon-free future and a present that still runs on fossil fuels, Canada could be leveraging its natural-gas riches to help fuel both, a new report suggests.
The report, to be released Monday by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, urges the federal government to finally get serious about building the infrastructure necessary to fast-track the extraction and export of liquid natural gas.
The carbon-credits clause of the 2015 Paris climate accord could be a “key driver of growth” for the LNG sector if Canadian natural gas were to become a viable alternative for coal-fired power plants around the world, it suggests.
“This initiative could not only support natural gas exports but an array of services, technology, and materials exports,” writes Eric Miller, president of the D.C.-based Rideau Potomac Strategy Group and the report’s author.
“Canada should use the global carbon market framework to build a stronger Canadian natural gas sector and a cleaner world.”
In addition to several measures to develop and promote Canadian gas as a global low-carbon alternative, the report encourages Canada to retool its often convoluted regulatory processes and give Indigenous Peoples a greater stake in natural gas projects.
Canadian natural gas already has certain advantages beyond the fact that it’s plentiful and cleaner than coal, Miller suggests: it’s also produced under Canada’s carbon-price regime, an advantage that could create a market premium in coming years as demand for cleaner fuel sources with a smaller carbon footprint continues to rise.
It could well help power the switch from coal to gas around the world, Miller writes: converting just 20 per cent of Asia’s coal-fired power to gas would save the equivalent of an entire year’s worth of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions.
The challenges, the report acknowledges, are myriad.
First and foremost is Canada’s glaring lack of the necessary infrastructure — pipelines and export terminals, particularly on the east coast — to get its gas to international markets.
Since 2008, no fewer than 18 new LNG export terminals have been proposed, Miller writes, including 13 in B.C., three in Nova Scotia and two in Quebec. Only the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, B.C., is anywhere near completion.
The report blames a “lack of decisiveness” on energy policy over the last 20 years for the country’s current inability to export its landlocked resources.
“Had Canada supported the construction of even a fraction of these terminals, it would have been at the centre of support for growing Asian and European markets that are in desperate need of LNG, and would be actively contributing to the displacement of coal.”
Miller cites last summer’s “missed opportunity” with Germany as an instructive example of Canada’s problem.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in August hoping to secure an agreement for liquified natural gas to ease its dependence on Russia, now a global pariah following the invasion of Ukraine.
But he left empty-handed. Months later, Germany signed a 15-year gas supply agreement with Qatar instead.
“This opportunity to supply Germany has now passed Canada by,” Miller writes. “Qatar, not Canada, will now get the economic and employment benefits of producing and shipping gas to Germany.”
A more robust LNG pipeline network would have the added advantage of being adaptable to the future use of hydrogen as a modern-day low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels, the report notes.
“Being able to piggyback on existing infrastructure would be an enormous advantage in hydrogen’s scaling process,” Miller writes.
“In addition to investing in hydrogen research, the government of Canada should move to understand what specifically would be involved in converting gas infrastructure to hydrogen and what the cost structure would look like.”
Indeed, Canada and Germany did manage to reach an export agreement for hydrogen during Scholz’s visit, which proposed to establish a transatlantic supply corridor that could be operating as early as 2025.
And during last month’s visit by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Trudeau announced a new hydrogen deal with the EU that he vowed would “mobilize investment, support businesses, share expertise and get clean Canadian hydrogen to Europe.”
Von der Leyen called Canada a “prime potential partner for hydrogen” in Europe, such as through an already-announced, long-term deal with Germany.
A better understanding of how a natural gas pipeline network could be converted to hydrogen would help “clarify the long-term economics” of building such infrastructure, the report says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2023.
Top warming talks official hopes for ‘course correction’ and praises small steps in climate efforts
Adnan Amin, CEO and number two official at the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai, answers questions during an interview, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, at United Nations Headquarters. Amin said he knows what activists, critics and the head of the United Nations really want – a phase out of fossil fuels that cause climate change. He said it looks unlikely. (AP Photo/Joseph Frederick)
By Seth Borenstein in New York
NEW YORK (AP) — A top official helping to oversee upcoming international climate negotiations hopes to prove critics wrong — and surprise them with a “course correction” for an ever-warming world.
But don’t expect that big a turn.
Adnan Amin, the CEO and No. 2 official at the upcoming Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai in late November and December, said he also knows what activists, critics and the head of the United Nations really want — a phase-out of fossil fuels that cause climate change. He said it looks unlikely.
Yet Amin said that while an agreement ridding the world of fossil fuels doesn’t look likely, a “phase-down of fossil fuels is inevitable.”
In an interview with The Associated Press, Amin demonstrated how the leadership of the climate talks is trying to thread a moving diplomatic needle and praised steps in a decarbonizing direction, however small. Amin’s boss, the COP28 president, is an oil executive; Amin was the founding director of the U.N.’s renewable energy agency. The talks are being hosted by petrostate United Arab Emirates.
The Kenya-born Amin is quick to defend COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber, pointing out that al-Jaber also runs a renewable energy company and was key in the founding of the U.N.’s renewable energy agency in the UAE. He will surprise critics, Amin said.
In 10 years when critics and others look back at the talks, Amin wants to hear amazement.
“I hope they will be saying that ‘we didn’t think that an oil producing country could achieve an outcome on climate of this sort. We didn’t think that a process that we thought was blah blah ( the words activist Greta Thunberg used to describe climate negotiations ) could achieve an outcome of this sort’,” Amin said. “But that was a course correction that the world needed to get us to a place of comfort for all of us.”
AN ELABORATE ECOSYSTEM IS IN THE WAY
It all comes down to the role of coal, oil and natural gas, the nations that rely on them and the companies that profit from them.
Amin welcomes fossil-fuel interests to negotiations, while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, activists and some scientists literally want them gone. They say a phase-out of fossil fuels is the only way to curb warming to a manageable level.
But given oppositions by some countries and the climate talks requirement to act by consensus – so one nation can stop everything – it’s unlikely that a phase-out will be approved, Amin said. He pointed to the desire by some African countries to use fossil fuels to develop. Rich nations already emitted heat-trapping gases to develop, he said, and it’s not fair to ask Africa to forego that without massive financial aid to help them leapfrog to clean energy.
Outside experts don’t buy that argument.
“We don’t need these historic polluters using Africa poverty to promote fossil fuels which will ultimately inhibit Africa’s development,” said longtime climate analyst Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa.
Africa, which produces less than 4% of the world’s carbon emissions, gets hard hit with extreme weather, such as the rainy storm that triggered Libya’s floods and intense droughts, and have fewer resources to cope with disasters.
“If we truly want to be able to tackle climate change, the first thing we need to do is phase out fossil fuels,” Adow said in an email. “We don’t want UAE to hide behind low expectations of itself because it is an oil country. If it couldn’t deliver a radical, decarbonizing COP28 summit it should not be volunteering to coordinate it.”
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘PHASE OUT’ AND ‘PHASE DOWN’
Climate scientists Niklas Hohne at the New Climate Institute and Bill Hare at Climate Analytics say there’s a significant difference between “phase out” and “phase down.” They say “phase down” is what the fossil-fuel industry wants, not what the world needs.
“The scale of investment in fossil fuel development by the UAE is the clearest indication of the direction of travel and it is not towards decarbonization but locking in massive fossil gas infrastructure,” Hare said.
While a phase-out is crucial, former U.S. State Department climate lawyer Nigel Purvis said Amin is probably right that ending to fossil fuel is likely an impossible ask. That’s because it seemed as if major nations like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia were blocking such a move at a recent meeting of rich economies, he said.
Amin said upcoming climate talks aim to be the most inclusive ever, but that also includes the at-times vilified fossil fuel industry.
“We believe that the oil and gas industry needs to be part of the climate equation,” Amin said. “We’re engaging with them to see if we can get them to commit to, you know, more rapid decarbonization of their operations.”
Amin said he understands the angst and anger of young people. It’s their future, he says, so they will have more of an official role in this year’s negotiations than in the past.
Amin said he will consider the upcoming talks a success if they accomplish four things: fix and increase climate financial aid from rich nations to poor; decarbonize energy systems more; increase funding for nations to adapt to a warming world, especially hunger and health problems; and include more groups in the negotiations.
Fixing climate change is painstakingly slow, he said, but agreements from 2015 and 1997 have produced progress.
“There is a lot of impatience given the scale of the crisis,” Amin said. “The multilateral system moves slowly, but it moves.”
Growing number of forecasts predict oil will reach US$100 this fall
Pumpjacks draw out oil and gas from wellheads near Calgary on Friday, April 28, 2023. A growing number of forecasts are calling for the return of US$100 oil before the end of the year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary
A growing number of forecasts are calling for the return of US$100 oil before the end of the year — a prospect that could put even more pressure on consumers and make it harder for central bankers to rein in inflation.
North American benchmark crude West Texas Intermediate has surged 30 per cent since June 1 and is hovering this week around US$90 per barrel, its highest point since November of last year. Global benchmark Brent crude was trading higher than US$93 on Wednesday.
In recent days, a number of analysts have revised their forecasts with the view that triple-digit oil prices may now be in the cards for this fall. Bank of America, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are now all predicting US$100 Brent crude prices before 2024, as is Chevron CEO Mike Wirth, according to a Bloomberg report.
“We’re chewing on this right now,” said Andrew Botterill of Deloitte Canada, in an interview Wednesday in Calgary, where hundreds of oil and gas executives from around the globe are gathered this week for the 24th World Petroleum Congress.
Botterill said he’s currently working on Deloitte’s upcoming oil price forecast report and considering whether to revise his own earlier projections higher.
“I can absolutely see it ($100 oil) … I absolutely think we will have moments,” Botterill said.
“I can list a lot more reasons why oil will move up right now than down.”
Last week, the International Energy Agency predicted that world oil demand is forecast to grow to 101.8 million barrels per day by the end of this year, driven by resurgent Chinese demand.
In addition, Saudi Arabia and Russia recently agreed to extend their voluntary oil production cuts through the end of this year, leading to what the IEA calls a “substantial market deficit.”
“We have very firm global demand right now,” Botterill said.
“And as we get into the winter, that’s always a big consumption season as you start to see heating demand … So that really has us looking at how much we might see that (price) strengthening.”
Surging oil prices in the months ahead will likely make efforts by the Bank of Canada and other central bankers to get inflation under control more challenging.
According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s annual inflation rate has risen for two consecutive months, with higher gasoline and energy prices the major driving factor.
Fuel price tracking website GasBuddy.com says the average gasoline prices in Canada Wednesday was $1.67 per litre, nearly 15 cents higher than the 2022 average.
“Energy costs play a big role in all of our lives, and they’re certainly a big part of the inflation calculation for Canada,” Botterill said.
“With these firm prices, will we see that soften some of the demand? Will you and I turn our thermostat down, drive a little less? I hope so, but it’s the big (global) demand picture that’s really continuing to grow.”
However, Canadian energy companies are well-positioned to benefit from higher prices, said Lisa Baiton, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers on Thursday.
“The outlook is really bullish, for the foreseeable future,” she said. “You’re seeing a lot of activity, some M&A and consolidation. Companies are well-capitalized, and they’re willing to put their capital at play.”
Many Canadian oil and gas companies reaped record profits in 2022 due to the post-Ukraine invasion oil price spike. They were also criticized by environmentalists for directing the bulk of those profits into returns for shareholders, rather than investing in major emissions reduction projects.
But Baiton said Canadian companies are at a disadvantage to their American counterparts, who have access to an aggressive suite of government financial incentives for the deployment of technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
“Our members are ready to deploy capital into next-gen decarbonization projects. But again, capital is mobile – it will go to where there’s the greatest rate of return,” she said.
Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada said whether or not energy companies choose to invest in decarbonization projects, $100 oil may actually speed up the global energy transition.
“High oil prices are a double-edged sword for the oil industry, because while they mean big profits today, they also make alternatives like energy efficiency, electric vehicles and heat pumps much more attractive,” Stewart said.
In a research note, Eight Capital analyst Phil Skolnick said for the full year 2024, he continues to forecast an average WTI price of US$86 per barrel and an average Brent price of US$90.
But he is also bullish on oil prices for this fall, pointing out that OPEC’s global demand forecast for 2023 is a record 103 to 104 million barrels per day — even higher than the IEA’s forecast.
“If OPEC’s prediction turns out to be correct, the Q4/23 supply deficit may be the biggest in more than a decade,” Skolnick wrote.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.
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