Go green at 'near-zero' cost

Canada's oilpatch could get a big head start on reducing emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas for a "near zero" cost, says an academic study on the price of methane reduction.

"Industry, as a whole, doesn't suffer," said David Tyner, a Carleton University professor whose analysis was presented recently at a conference in Ottawa on the issue.

The federal government and Alberta, with industry support, have announced plans to reduce methane emissions by up to 45 per cent by 2025. But the industry disagrees with government estimates of how much that would cost.

Methane is a greenhouse gas considered about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Reducing emissions by sealing off leaks and other releases during energy extraction is considered to be one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways.

Alberta is still considering its approach, but Ottawa released draft regulations in the spring.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which supports the reduction goal, has already said the federal plan would cost many times more than Ottawa's estimate of $1.7 billion over 18 years. It says thousands of jobs are at risk if the regulations are poorly drafted.

The issue became murkier recently when new research suggested that Canada's actual methane emissions are twice what has been reported.

Tyner, who did the cost analysis with Carleton colleague Matthew Johnson, said reported emissions could be significantly brought down at a minimal cost and, in turn, reduce the overall cost of tackling unreported releases.

Release of about 250,000 tonnes of methane is reported every year in Alberta. That's equivalent to emissions from more than one million passenger cars.

Johnson and Tyner said capturing methane from well-heads and directing it into a pipeline or burning it in a flare could reduce Alberta's total methane releases from conventional oil and gas by about nine per cent for almost no cost, calculated over 10 years.

Including larger emissions improve the economics. Johnson and Tyner found methane releases could be cut by as much as one-third for an average cost to industry of roughly one dollar a tonne.

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