Citizen Action Monitor

Oilsands expansion drives Canada’s climate failure; job and GDP growth unlikely to shift much

Hard evidence from climate researcher’s charts drive stake through heart of Canada’s climate plan.

No 2167 Posted by fw, February 25, 2018

Barry Saxifrage

“Carbon pollution from oilsands expansion is radically undermining Canada’s plan to fight climate change. On the present course, almost everything else in Canada would have to shut down for the country to meet its climate change targets. As a percentage of Canada’s total carbon budget, climate pollution from Alberta’s oilsands industry alone keeps rising relentlessly. Back in 1990, oilsands pollution contributed just 2% of Canada’s total carbon pollution target budget. By 2050, Saxifrage calculates that oilsands pollution will contribute 78% of Canada’s total carbon pollution target budget. … As one chart makes clear, Canadians have become extreme carbon extractors. There is nothing normal about the pace we have been pulling oilsands carbon out of the ground. It’s been a frenzy. And, far from putting on the brakes, Alberta and the federal government are hitting the gas.”Barry Saxifrage, National Observer

Barry’s back!

In my February 8, 2018 repost, climate change researcher Barry Saxifrage’s article charted hard evidence to prove that Kinder Morgan’s proposed new pipeline will significantly increase Canada’s ocean acidification and climate crises. Doubtless, this was news that PM Trudeau and Alberta premier Rachel Notley would prefer be kept from Canadians: It threatens to undermine their fairy tale promises of oilsands job and economic growth while concurrently cutting carbon emissions.

NOTE — In today’s repost, I have integrated some of my own text with an abridged and edited mix of Barry’s article. One of Barry’s charts has been included in the body of the text, three others appear at the bottom of the post. Omitted are superscript numbers to identify footnotes, and Barry’s list of Notes & Sources. My purpose in making these changes is to focus attention on the author’s main ideas and research findings.

To read Barry’s original piece, including his charts, which are integrated with his text, and to see all of his Notes & Sources, click on the following linked title.

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Oilsands pollution on collision course with Canada’s climate plan by Barry Saxifrage, National Observer, February 20, 2018

Carbon pollution from oilsands expansion is radically undermining Canada’s plan to fight climate change. On the present course, almost everything else in Canada would have to shut down for the country to meet its climate change targets.

As a percentage of Canada’s total carbon budget, climate pollution from Alberta’s oilsands industry alone keeps rising relentlessly. Back in 1990, oilsands pollution contributed just 2% of Canada’s total carbon pollution target budget. By 2050, Saxifrage calculates that oilsands pollution will contribute 78% of Canada’s total carbon pollution target budget. (See Chart 1 at bottom).

To explain –

Alberta’s “hard cap” for oilsands, touted by fed’s Minister McKenna as climate solution, will be a “train wreck”

Alberta’s Notley government enacted a 100 MtCO2 [metric tonnes of CO2] per year “hard cap” for the oilsands.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is promoting Alberta’s “hard cap” as being a key part of Canada’s climate solution.

However, Saxifrage’s charts reveal that by continuing at Alberta’s capped level, the oilsands would gobble up 78% of Canada’s total carbon pollution budget target by 2050.

Moreover, Saxifrage affirms, “We won’t have to wait for 2050 for the train wreck. That’s because the Paris Accord requires all nations to set increasingly ambitious targets every five years. To illustrate what that might look like for Canada, the “hard cap” eats up a third of Canada’s carbon pollution target budget within five years of kicking in. Within ten years of kicking in, it gobbles up half.”

In effect, Alberta’s ‘hard cap’ solution leaves nothing for rest of Canada. The trend is the threat. Instead of being part of a climate solution for Canada, Alberta’s “hard cap” allows just one industry to consume Canada’s climate goals and obligations.

Oilsands jobs, GDP and CO2

What about the argument by bitumen expansionists [in Trudeau and Notley’s governments and in industry] that the oilsands industry is just too critical — in jobs and GDP — to require reductions like other businesses must make in their climate pollution?

Saxifrage’s chart dramatically crushes that fiction.

Chart 3 Oilsands jobs GDP CO2

CO2 Emissions Up 78%

Regarding CO2 emissions, as recounted above and shown in Chart 3, the black bar on the right shows 78% of Canada’s carbon pollution target budget consumed by oilsands pollution over time.

Job Growth Well Below 0.5% of National Employment

As for the claim that production growth in the oilsands will be an engine of job growth going forward, the blue bar on the left shows the percentage of Canadian jobs created by the oilsands industry. Estimates by Statistics Canada, Canadian Energy Research Institute and PetroLMI all put direct employment in oilsands at well below 0.5% of national employment.

GDP Growth Just 2.5% of National GDP

Turning to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the green bar in the middle shows the percentage of GDP produced by the oilsands. Statistics Canada puts the direct contribution at just 2.5% of Canadian GDP today.

More Bad News on the Way

Saxifrage asks — Does this seem like a fair and workable balance to you?

Heading into the future, this imbalance is likely to grow ever more extreme. The oilsands CO2 share is set to surge dramatically… but the oilsands’ share of jobs and GDP isn’t likely to shift much at all. That’s because, according to the National Energy Board, the overall economy is projected to expand at roughly the same rate as bitumen production.

In fact, when it comes to Canadian jobs, the oilsands contribution seems more likely to fall even if bitumen mining expansion continues.

More to the point, Saxifrage challenges Trudeau, Notley and industry leaders with this demand:

“If Canada is going to be forced to abandon our climate hopes and commitments to support job creation in one of Alberta’s industries, then shouldn’t that industry at least be required to crank out some amazing job growth relative to the rest of the national economy?”

He answers his own question:

“Sadly, that seems unlikely.”

Instead, the oilsands industry is aggressively pushing to reduce the number of workers needed per barrel. “Increasing labour productivity,” to use industry’s phrasing.

Data from PetroLMI’s recent report on Labour Productivity in Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry. It shows the oilsands industry on track to reduce workforce by 21 per cent per barrel between 2010 and 2021.

All sectors of the industry — In situ, mining and upgrading — are significantly reducing workers per barrel.

Longer-term workforce reductions, via automation, are rolling out as well. In one example, Suncor Energy recently announced they are shifting to driverless trucks. In another example, flying drones are reported to be expanding rapidly.

Even if oilsands manage to maintain their current share of Canadian jobs, the massive imbalance with their climate pollution will continue to grow.

Continuing Oilsands Expansion Locks Canada in Future Climate Failure

Comparing Canada’s oilsands fossil carbon extraction per person with the US reveals that Canadians have dramatically increased extraction. In fact, we now extract twice as much per person as the Americans from all fossil fuels: oil, natural gas and coal combined. Charts show that the Canadian surge has been caused by explosive expansion of Alberta’s oilsands industry.

Finally, let’s see how we compare to the rest of the world’s top 10 national economies plus the European Union. This group produces two-thirds of global GDP and global climate pollution. It’s where the world’s political, technological and financial power is concentrated. Any solution to the climate crisis will need to come from this group.

Canadians are extreme carbon extractors

As one chart makes clear, Canadians have become extreme carbon extractors. There is nothing normal about the pace we have been pulling oilsands carbon out of the ground. It’s been a frenzy. And, far from putting on the brakes, Alberta and the federal government are hitting the gas.

As we saw in detail above, it is exactly this expansion of the oilsands industry that is driving Canada’s climate failure. Continuing this bitumen expansionist path will lock in climate failure for the next generation as well.

Conclusion

While the rest of Canada is doing its part to meet our climate goals, our main stumbling block is the rising share of oilsands pollution. And this data also shows that we aren’t forced to keep expanding oilsands pollution. The potential jobs added by oilsands expansion are an extremely small slice of our nation’s employment. And we can see that other major nations are maintaining strong economies without expanding how much fossil fuel they dig up per capita.

********** CHARTS **********

Oilsands share of Canada’s budget

Oilsands share of Canada’s budget CO2 and jobs

CO2 extract per capita Canada / USA

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