Cenovus Energy increases greenhouse gas emissions despite efforts to reduce footprint

Cenovus Energy has been implementing energy saving and emission reduction technologies as part of its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But a 2014 corporate social responsibility report reveals those emissions have actually increased nearly 95 per cent over four years and some experts say that meaningful reductions can’t be achieved without strong government action.

In that report, leading Alberta energy company Cenovus states that it “shares the public’s concern that climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our time. We believe the world needs to limit the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. As an energy producer, we need to play a role in improving our emissions performance while encouraging innovation that will create a cleaner energy future for that world.”

The famous Bow building in downtown Calgary is the current homestead of Cenovus Energy. Photo courtesy of Florian Fuchs. Creative Commons licensed.At Cenovus, that innovation includes vent-gas capture systems, air and fuel ratio controllers, instrument air compressors that “completely eliminate the venting of methane emissions” and even a carbon capture project in Weyburn, Saskatchewan; a relatively new and progressive method where CO2 is stored deep underground instead of being released into the atmosphere.

But, despite all of that work, the same 2014 report includes data revealing the company increased its direct greenhouse emissions by 95 per cent between 2010 and 2014.

In an emailed statement, Cenovus media advisor Sonja Franklin wrote, “The increase in absolute direct (greenhouse gas) emissions at our oil sands operations is the result of increased production from our facilities.”

That increased production may be a result of increased demand.

A 2013 report released by U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that world energy consumption would grow by 56 per cent between 2010 and 2040.

And as that consumption grows, Alberta, the oil-producing giant that it is, has risen to meet the demand for oil. According to a report from the Pembina Institute, Alberta’s oil related GHG emissions have risen by 180 per cent over 20 years.

Peter McCartney, an Albertan and climate campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, says greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions from companies such as Cenovus are contributing to climate change and global warming.

It’s impossible to calculate direct correlations, but McCartney has no doubt that greenhouse gas emissions played a part in Calgary’s devastating 2013 floods.

“For every degree Celsius that the atmosphere warms, it holds more and more moisture,” he says. “Even the slight change in temperature can lead to significantly more rainfall.”

Climate change can have impacts beyond structural damage.Riverfront Ave during the Calgary floods of 2013. The summer floods were devastating for the city’s infrastructure and economy. Photo courtesy of Ryan L. C. Quan. Creative Commons licensed.

“Albertan’s lost seven and a half million hours of work during the floods,” says McCartney. “That cost the provincial economy around $485.3 million.”

Cenovus did not provide comment on McCartney’s statement, other than to say that they support the Alberta government’s climate plan and are working to reduce emissions through technology and innovation.

Keith W. Hipel is a professor of system design engineering at the University of Waterloo and co-chair of the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Energy Use and Climate Change. He says that commendable progress is being made in emission reducing technologies, like the ones being produced at Cenovus, but cohesive government action will be key for meaningful GHG reduction.

“A transition to a low energy system is achievable with the right combination of stringent and flexible policies,” says Hipel. “These policies have to be economy wide… there has to be an agreement right across the country and internationally that we’re going to cut back, a legally binding agreement.”

Hipel thinks that this way, policy will play an important role in determining the commercial use of emission reducing technologies. “When you look at Alberta, (it) goes beyond the technology. It’s the over all agreement that needs to be reached across the country,” he says.

The provincial government has hardly been sitting idle. The Greenhouse gas emissions reporting program requires that facilities emitting 100,000 tonnes or more must reduce the intensity of the emissions every year.

Cenovus has two facilities in Alberta that have to submit reports: the Christina Lake and Foster Creek facilities.

Effective Jan. 1, 2016, the reduction requirement was strengthened to 15 per cent. Jan. 2017 will see an increase to 20 per cent.

In 2015, the Alberta government announced the Climate Leadership Plan to reduce GHG emissions. According to Alberta government spokesman Jason Maloney, the plan includes a price on carbon, and some of that revenue is invested into clean research and technology.

The Athabasca Glacier is the biggest of six major ice sheets forming the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park. The glacier has been retreating since the late 19th century and an unsave level of climate could lead to it completely disappearing within a generation. Photo courtesy of FutureAtlas.com. Creative Commons licensed.“They can’t hurt,” laughs McCartney, discussing Alberta’s caps and regulations. “But if we were to meet our emissions target, the rest of the economy would have to decline significantly in order for oil sands to keep operating.”

“There’s no way that the oil sands can grow and continue like they have been if we’re to have a safe level of climate,” says McCartney. “It’s just incompatible. And that’s government that relies on those revenues from oil, there is a whole system that wants to see this trajectory continue.”

Cenovus hasn’t announced any plans to cut back on oil production but in an email states, “…we need to do everything we can to eliminate emissions from oil, so that it can continue to play a role in a clean energy future.”

egros928@mtroyal.ca

The editor responsible for this story is Tara Rathgeber, trathgeber@cjournal.ca