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Methane emissions in Alberta are underestimated by half, study finds

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Nov19,2023

Methane emissions in Alberta would be underestimated by half, according to a study

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Actual methane emissions in Alberta would be equivalent to the emissions of 4.5 million cars annually.


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Methane emissions from Alberta's energy industry are underestimated by 50%, according to a study by one of Canada's leading climate laboratories.

Methane is a greenhouse gas thought to be about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide within 20 years of its release.

Matthew Johnson, a lead author of the research published in the scientific journal Communications Earth and Environment (New window) (in English), combined many methods to measure methane emissions in the province.

With his team, he measured these emissions for example at three levels: from the surface, by plane and by satellite data. Scientists observed 3,500 oil and gas complexes and 5,600 wells in the province.

They concluded that methane emissions estimates made by government and industry are only half of that revealed by their assessment.

In 2021, methane emissions in Alberta were officially estimated at 15 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year. However, according to the research results, emissions would be closer to 22.5 megatons. That's the equivalent of the annual emissions of 4.5 million cars, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Findings from the Carleton University Energy and Emissions Research Laboratory study also indicate that the oil and gas produced in Alberta emit significantly more methane for energy production than in other provinces, such as British Columbia.

According to the study, one possible explanation for this difference is that methane emissions come from more sources than the government and industry think. For example, the ventilation of tanks would represent a quarter of emissions, far from the 3% estimated in official data.

The president of the Association of oil producers said by email that his group is reviewing the information reported by the Carleton University laboratory.

There are numerous methodologies for estimating methane emissions from industry, including various academic, provincial and national inventories. Everyone has their own strengths and assumptions.

A quote from Association of Petroleum Producers

Renato Gandia, a spokesperson for the Alberta Energy Regulator, says official estimates are only a reflection of the data they have access to: The [regulator] continues to work with other jurisdictions and regulators to to improve the quality of [these] data.

Alberta is not the only province to underestimate its emissions, as Colombia -British and Saskatchewan also do so, says the laboratory.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is re-evaluating its statistical data related to methanes in light of the conclusions of the research by Matthew Johnson and his team.

The federal government is also finalizing its regulations on methane emissions. Alberta's oil and gas sector accounts for a quarter of national emissions.

With information from Bob Weber of the Canadian Press.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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