Innovation Energy: Canada leads the way in carbon capture as more governments put a price on CO2

Canada started early to build up expertise in carbon capture and storage, considered a pillar of any plan to stop climate change

CarbonEngineeringPlant.jpeg
Carbon Engineering’s carbon-dioxide-capturing pilot plant in B.C. The company hopes to have its first generation of commercial plants running by 2021. Photo courtesy of Carbon Engineering.

David Keith was a professor at the University of Calgary when he started putting some serious effort into devising a way to capture carbon dioxide from the air to combat climate change.

“I had some time on my hands, so I thought why not?” he said.

That was 2009 and he formed Carbon Engineering Ltd. with one of his students to push back against the prevailing wisdom that though carbon dioxide — which has risen to dramatically high concentrations in the atmosphere during the past few decades — could probably be removed from the air, it would be way too expensive to do so at any kind of meaningful scale.

“I gradually decided it wasn’t as absurdly expensive as people thought,” said Keith, an MIT-trained scientist who is now a professor of engineering and public policy at Harvard University.

A little less than a decade later, having built a pilot plant in Squamish, B.C., his early bet that innovation could bring down the cost of direct carbon capture looks prescient.

Now, as companies brace for a future in which it seems increasingly likely that regulations will force industry to pay for emitting carbon into the atmosphere, investment in carbon capture and storage is rising, and Canada, having started early, has gained an edge in expertise and experience in the burgeoning area.

“In Canada, we have this conflict, because we have a resource-rich economy, driven by things like the oilsands, but also an environmental preference,” said Steve Oldham, chief executive of Carbon Engineering. “Our technology is a way to generate oil and be environmentally friendly.”

Keith, who is now Carbon Engineering’s executive chairman, is convinced that regardless of how much money is invested in renewables, part of combating climate change requires dealing with the CO2 left over from hundreds of years of industrialization. Unlike some others, he is optimistic world leaders will create regulations to try to end climate change, just as in the past they created laws that eventually led to sewage systems.

“That’s what developed societies come from,” said Keith, who was raised in Ottawa by parents who worked as environmental regulators.

By 2015, Carbon Engineering had built a pilot plant in Squamish, B.C., capable of pulling a ton of CO2 out of the air each day — not much given that there are billions of tons of it floating around, and more and more released each day. Two years later, the company used the CO2 it captured to create a fuel for planes or other vehicles.

This past spring, after raising more than $90 million from major oil and mining companies and high-net-worth individuals, and getting a $25-million loan from the Canadian government, the company announced a plan with Occidental Petroleum Corp. to design facilities in Texas that can process 500 million tons of CO2 each year.

In a twist, Occidental plans to pump the captured CO2 back into depleted oil wells in the Permian Basin in the southwest U.S. to push up more oil to the surface — with a goal of creating a carbon-negative barrel of oil.

In Canada, energy companies have projects to store carbon underground in an effort to move towards carbon neutrality.

“I think we are a little bit Canadian about it, a little humble,” said Tim Wiwchar, project lead for Shell Canada Ltd.’s Quest project in Alberta, which recently announced it had stored four million tons of carbon underground in the past four years. “It’s not something that you can take a selfie with like a Tesla car or a wind farm.”

Carbon capture or carbon storage is still a little-known technology, even among the people most enthusiastic about ending climate change, but tax credits in California, at the U.S. federal level and in Canada during the past decade have enticed companies to explore such solutions.

CO2 currently exists in the atmosphere at around 400 parts per million. Ancient air bubbles trapped in ice suggest that CO2 has historically existed at between 200 and 280 parts per million during the past 400,000 years, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. MORE

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Bayer Jury Awards on Roundup Underscore Legal Rift Over Science

Roundup labels sit on a spool during packaging at a Belgian herbicide manufacturing facility operated by Monsanto Co. in 2016. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Jurors have sided with plaintiffs in all three cases over Bayer AG’s herbicide Roundup to go to trial so far, finding that glyphosate causes cancer and awarding a total of more than $2.2 billion in damages.

Those results underscore a growing skepticism of juries to trust the science conducted by regulators, which, if it continues, could have profound impacts on the ability of companies to defend themselves in product liability cases, several legal analysts told Bloomberg Environment.

“Over the past 10 years, jurors have become increasingly skeptical of government regulators and the notion that science is pure,” said Allan Kanner, a plaintiffs’ attorney with Kanner & Whiteley LLC who handles toxic tort cases.

Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer AG last year and which makes Roundup, has been accused of covering up the chemical’s health risks.

The first Roundup verdict came in August 2018, when a state jury awarded California groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million, which was later reduced to $78 million. Since then, the number of plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits blaming Roundup for their cancers has grown to 18,400, according to Bayer’s second-quarter report released July 30. And the actions have been filed by a wide range of plaintiffs including, just last month, former NFL running back and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge.

Despite losing at trial in each of the three cases to go before a jury, the company remains confident that appellate judges will be more willing to side with the company’s toxicology evidence, which includes findings by both federal and international regulators.

“We continue to believe that we have meritorious defenses and intend to defend ourselves vigorously,” the company said in its report.

But Kanner said that strategy is based on a premise that regulatory experts still hold a deciding influence over jurors.

“That model, which Bayer has used in these first three trials, is based on a world view among jurors that no longer exists, or is rapidly eroding,” he said.

As the number of cases against Bayer mounts, speculation is growing among legal analysts that glyphosate has the potential to prompt a raft of claims globally. MORE

Green party leaders promise guaranteed liveable income if elected

Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May joined Manitoba Leader James Beddome in Winnipeg

Leaders from the provincial and federal Green parties promised to bring in a guaranteed income program as part of their plan to reduce poverty.

Green Party of Manitoba Leader James Beddome, along with national party Leader Elizabeth May, unveiled their poverty reduction strategies at a downtown Winnipeg hotel on Friday.

“Investing in poverty reduction is one of the best public investments that we can make,” Beddome said.

The party cited a 2018 study by the Citizens for Public Justice that found as many as three in 10 Manitobans live in poverty.

The estimated cost of the Manitoba plan would be $1.58 billion. Although the plan would not eliminate poverty entirely, Beddome said it would lift 35,000 adults and 23,000 children out of poverty. People who remained below the poverty line would see their income increase by 21 per cent, he said.

May endorsed the Manitoba plan and said if the Green’s formed Canada’s government, they would convene a council of federal, provincial, local and Indigenous governments to come up with a national guaranteed liveable income plan.

“We can afford to eliminate poverty in Canada. I’d make the case that we can’t afford not to,” May said.

By investing in poverty reduction, governments would save money in other areas such as health, criminal justice, and “the apparatus and vast bureaucracy of band aid solutions for poverty that don’t ever, ever solve the problem,” May said. MORE

Elizabeth May — we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment

Elizabeth May -- we don't have to choose between the economy and the environment. Image: Victoria Fenner

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST:

When rabble.ca podcast producer Victoria Fenner heard that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was coming to the small conservative city of Barrie, Ontario, on July 18 for a pre-campaign town hall and rally, she could think of a lot of things to talk to her about.

Barrie is right in the middle of Tory blue country and tough territory for progressives. It’s the biggest city in Simcoe County, located on the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee, Ojibway/Chippewa and Anishnabek First Nations. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Colonization by Europeans began about 400 years ago by French explorers. The first elections here happened way back in 1823 after the British took over and it’s been Conservative country for a very long time. It’s close enough to Toronto that a lot of people commute every day from the south part of the riding. The north part of the county, not so much. But out towards Collingwood, cottagers and skiiers from Toronto contribute a lot of money towards the local economy.

There are very few Red Tories in this county. Remember the Reform Party? That upstart right wing party that shifted politics further right in the late ’80s and the ’90s? The former riding of Simcoe Centre, which was right in the heart of the city of Barrie, was the only place in Canada east of Manitoba that ever elected a Reform Party MP. That’s an indicator of how conservative this area of the country is. The Liberals do come close sometimes but not enough to get them elected. In the 2015 election, the Green Party was the distant fourth party.

The Green Party message is a tough sell in places where people think they have to choose between a stable economy and a healthy environment to live in. But that’s not just here — that kind of dichotomous thinking goes on in so many places. The good news is that this can change with people moving in from other places, and a growing sense that the environment needs to be a bigger priority.

In today’s rabble radio, Victoria Fenner and Elizabeth May talk about that and a wide range of subjects — the disconnect that some people see between economy and environment, the first-past-the-post system, how international trade agreements have affected the health of the planet, and the role of media in fostering an empowered, informed citizenry. SOURCE

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British Columbia’s dirty natural gas secret


B.C. Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in 2018. File Photo by Andrew Meade

When I told people I was heading to northeastern British Columbia to check out fracking sites, the most common response was: “We do that here?”

Few southerners have any idea what goes on in the Peace region, and even fewer will ever see it for themselves. For all the hype about liquefied natural gas (LNG) the last few years, not many of us seem to know where it all comes from.

One thing I can tell you is if fracking was going on in Vancouver or Toronto, people would’ve put a stop to it ages ago. After visiting local communities near Dawson Creek, B.C., it’s hard to believe their story has not been told.

Flying over the countryside is the only way to fully grasp the scale. Fracking infrastructure blankets the region from the Alberta border to the Rocky Mountains. Gas plants, compressor stations, well pads, flare stacks, pipelines, wastewater ponds — it just goes on and on and on. I was horrified at just how much farmland and wilderness have been lost to fracking infrastructure.

Folks on the ground told me stories of their lives turned upside-down. I’ve had my share of bad neighbours before, but these fracking companies take the cake. Constant industrial noise from machinery, bright orange flames above flare stacks lighting up the horizon, the smell of poisonous gas prompting abrupt evacuations — and everywhere residents are afraid to speak out.

Long-term effects are even more worrisome. Little research has been done on the cumulative health impacts of fracking in the region, but doctors report bizarre incidences of rare cancers and scarring of the lungs with no clear cause. One community health researcher found evidence of benzene contamination in people. Benzene, a known carcinogen, was found to be 3.5 times higher in pregnant women who lived close to fracking sites and six times higher if those women were Indigenous.

OPINION: Three LNG projects in Squamish and Kitimat would require over 13000 new fracking wells over the next 30 years between them. But we know the only path to limiting global warming to safe levels is zero-carbon renewable energy, not fracked gas

Earlier this spring, drought conditions linked to warming temperatures forced the BC Oil and Gas Commission to suspend water withdrawals for fracking companies in the northeast. These operations use an astonishing 550,000 water trucks worth of the dwindling resource each year. Much of that water eventually ends up deep underground, leaving local wetlands and rivers running dry and the land parched.

While the industry is already suffering from climate change, it continues to make the problem worse. Methane leaks from fracking operations are the key contributor to an alarming spike in levels of the highly potent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. And all it takes is one look at the mammoth flare stacks dotting the horizon in the Peace region to see for yourself the damage fracking does to the climate. MORE

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Pipeline fight is not over, and Canadians everywhere have a stake


A shot of Fort McMurray, Alberta in 2012. Photo by Kris Krüg from Flickr

The Trudeau government and the petrobloc (the fossil fuel industries and their political, financial and media allies) would like you to believe that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline (TMX), intended to triple the flow of diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Sands to the port of Vancouver, is a done deal.

But the latest approval of TMX by the Trudeau government and the industry-friendly National Energy Board does not settle the issue.

There are significant legal challenges from six major First Nations whose territories include much of the proposed pipeline route through B.C. Ecojustice is litigating in the Federal Court of Appeal to defend the critically endangered southern resident orcas. The B.C. government is taking its case for jurisdiction over the transport of diluted bitumen within B.C. to the Supreme Court.

The Indigenous-led, grassroots place-based resistance that encouraged the Texas-based multinational Kinder Morgan (founded by two former Enron executives) to walk away from the project, is re-emerging, after the construction delay imposed by the Federal Court of Appeal in August 2018.

And the federal election in October could give the balance of power to two parties – Greens and New Democrats – which are opposed to the pipeline.

Now, a new front has opened up: a national campaign to halt fossil fuel subsidies on which projects like TMX depend.

B.C. residents in the sacrifice zones of the pipeline project know of its local, regional and global environmental risks, from tank farm fires, pipeline rupture, oil tanker spills and orca deaths, to intensified planetary heating. These concerns didn’t always resonate with Canadians elsewhere, facing economic insecurity and public service cutbacks.

But the federal government’s 2018 purchase of the pipeline has added an enormous new risk to Canadian taxpayers. While the petrobloc touts TMX as a route to economic prosperity, taxpayers may see more pain than gain.

Buying the pipeline alone cost taxpayers $4.4 billion, far more than analysts said it was worth, with a further nine to 12 billion dollars needed for expanding its capacity, locking Canada further into planet-heating infrastructure while creating far fewer permanent jobs than investment in renewable energy.

Independent analysts like Andrew Nikiforuk and J. David Hughes argue that optimistic pro-pipeline estimates of Asian demand for Canadian bitumen downplay such factors as escalating construction costs, the completion of two other pipelines by 2022, high transportation costs, alternative supply sources and lower-quality product.

“Trans Mountain has been losing money since Ottawa overpaid for it, leaving taxpayers on the hook,” economist Robyn Allan told me. “Revenues from tolls on the existing line are insufficient to cover all the interest expense or any of the principal amount the government borrowed to finance the acquisition of the 66-year-old pipeline. Billions more in taxpayer-funded subsidies will be required to finance the expansion since shipper tolls will not cover the cost of building it.” MORE

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Want to invest in Canada’s clean economy? Good luck


A solar project by iSolara at Maurice-Lapointe school in the Kanata area of Ottawa in August 2017. Photo by Alex Tétreault

As of last year, close to one thousand institutions with three per cent of global savings under management have engaged in some form of divestment from fossil fuels.

In June 2019, Norway’s parliament unanimously voted in favour of directing its $1.06 trillion Government Pension Global Fund (GPGF), the Norges Bank, to divest more than $13 billion from fossil fuels while dedicating more investments to clean technologies.

The caveat is that this will apply only to companies that are exclusively in the business of upstream oil and gas production and some coal sector investments. The GPGF is Norway’s sovereign fund derived from oil industry revenues to assure Norway has a steady source of revenues in the post-oil world.

Shell has expressed concern that the growing fossil fuel divestment movement could impact on the company’s performance.

Here in Canada, Export Development Canada has issued more than $2 billion in Green Bonds in the last half decade, however this option is only available to institutional investors. The Business Development Bank has a minimalist allotment in Budget 2017 through to fiscal year 2021-22 for clean technologies without opportunities to Canadian citizens to enhance the BDC clean tech activity.

Should a Canadian citizen want to make investments which exclude the fossil fuel sector or divest from fossil fuels, and is inclined to give priority for Canadian companies, they appear to be out of luck.

The problem is that, although there are a wide variety of socially responsible investing (SRI) and environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria funds in Canada, hardly any of these funds offer such a choice. And the options for priority for Canadian assets in this category are only slightly above zero.

A glance at the top ten investments of each SRI and ESG fund portfolio illustrates the problem. Typically, the portfolios of these funds include investments in one or more other financial institutions. This means that while one is investing in an “ethical fund” the third-party investors among the top holdings of a given portfolio are free to invest your money in anything they want, contrary to the good intentions of a purchaser of this stake in the fund.

To illustrate, should one want to give priority to placing one’s “ethical” money in Canada, there is the IA Clarington Inhance Canadian Equity SRI Class. The top 10 holdings for this portfolio include RBC; TD Bank; CIBC and the Scotia Bank. All of these banks are among the top 10 banks listed in the US as those that most heavily invest in fossil fuels. RBC tops the list for tar sands development. MORE

The Sad Reality of Liberal Partisans’ Response to Trudeau’s Scandal

‘Vote for us — we’ll screw you over in favour of cronies less often’ is hardly a pro-democracy campaign slogan.COVER.Trudeau-Two.jpg
Justin Trudeau promised a new way of doing politics. But his response to the ethics commissioner’s report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal was sadly familiar. Photo via Justin Trudeau Flickr.

The ethics commissioner’s report into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s abuse of power is depressing on many levels, from the sordid facts to the confirmation of the government’s past dishonesty to Trudeau’s attempt to dodge guilt.

But the saddest thing was the response of Liberal partisans.

The report is a litany of serious wrongdoing. Commissioner Mario Dion found the “authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of [Jody] Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”

Trudeau and his team were working to advance SNC-Lavalin’s “significant financial interests in deferring prosecution” on bribery and corruption charges. “The evidence showed that private political interests were also put before Ms. Wilson‑Raybould, directly or indirectly, on at least four separate occasions,” the report found. (Which the government had repeatedly and falsely denied.)

And the report also found Trudeau and company continued to push Wilson-Raybould to let SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution long after she made it clear that the actions were improper.

The findings leave the Liberals’ past denials of wrongdoing in tatters.

Trudeau’s response was the kind of political slipperiness that leaves voters dispirited.

He said Wednesday he accepts the report and takes responsibility “for everything that happened.”

But at the same time he said he disagrees with many of the findings, as if the report of the independent ethics commissioner was some sort of opinion, rather than a careful finding of fact.

And in the next breath Trudeau effectively denied wrongdoing. “I can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs,” he said.

How many jobs? If SNC-Lavalin is convicted, it will be barred from bidding on federal government contracts for 10 years. But the work would go ahead. Other companies would bid, and would hire people to fill the jobs.

The company employs about 8,800 people in Canada. Not all of them work on federal projects. But say one-third of the jobs would be lost — that’s about 2,900 people. (Who still might be hired by the companies that do win the work.)

Some 3,900 workers have lost their jobs in the B.C. forest industry this year. Where is Trudeau’s willingness to stand up for their jobs? MORE

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Environment laws are stalling development in Ontario, study says


A major construction project on the 401 highway in Windsor and Essex County, Ontario. Flickr photo/Di Bédard

Imagine there’s a severe flood in a small Ontario town.

Imagine the flood washes out a key bridge, which serves as a fire and ambulance route.

The town leaders want to replace the bridge but in a different location, so that it’s safe from future weather events. They also want to elevate it, and reinforce the river banks below.

Under Ontario’s current environmental assessment laws, it will be two to four years before the town can even begin construction, said Frank Zechner, a civil engineer in Alberta’s oil and gas sector turned environmental lawyer.

It should take only five to eight months, he said in an interview with National Observer.

Zechner has written a new report that highlights the shortcomings of Ontario’s current Municipal Class Environmental Assessment (MCEA) process, which designates the planning and design of municipal infrastructure projects according to the requirements of the province’s Environmental Assessment Act to ensure that all environmental impacts of a development project are considered, and any effects appropriately mitigated before construction.

Entitled “Case Studies that Support Reforming Ontario’s Municipal Class Environmental Assessment Process,” the report is the sixth in a series commissioned by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) — an advocacy group for engineers and construction workers in the province — since 2009.

Zechner investigated 12 infrastructure projects across the province that faced significant delays and additional costs arising from “red tape and duplication.” Nine were road-related projects, two were bridges and one was a sewage water infrastructure project. In 10 cases, the MCEA process took between two and five years. Four of the projects required more than $2 million for consultants and reports; six required more than $500,000. These amounts, Zechner argues in the report, are too high.

 

Five things our next federal government needs to know about what Canadians think about climate change

Image result for Five things our next federal government needs to know about what Canadians think about climate change
Photo via Shutterstock

The numbers are in: poll after poll shows climate change is one of the top issues on Canadians’ minds heading into the federal election this fall.

To get a better picture of Canadian attitudes towards the climate crisis, Ecojustice and Climate Action Network Canada commissioned Environics to conduct an exclusive survey of our own. The results shed light on what Canadians think about the country’s climate progress to date and what type of laws they consider necessary to combat the climate emergency.

We drew on these survey results and other recent polling to come up with five key takeaways any party vying to form the next government should know:

Infographic - Climate polling

1.      Canadians care about climate change. Four in 10 say we’re in an emergency situation. (Abacus Data)

A survey from Abacus Data, released on Aug. 12, shows 82 per cent of Canadians say climate change is a serious problem. Seth Klein, an adjunct professor with Simon Fraser University’s Urban Studies program, commissioned the polling.

When asked to rate the seriousness of five key issues, respondents’ concern about climate change ranked second only to the rising cost of living. Concern about climate change surpassed worries about wealth and income inequality in society, increasing automation of work, and the loss of good paying jobs, and increasing immigration to Canada.

Furthermore, 42 per cent of Canadians told Abacus Data they believe climate change is now an emergency. Another 20 per cent said they feel climate change is not yet an emergency, but will likely be one in the next few years.

2.      Canadians have mixed views about the country’s efforts to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Environics)

Just under half (46 per cent) of Canadians say Canada’s been very or somewhat effective at reducing GHG emissions. A similar percentage (45 per cent) say Canada hasn’t been very effective or has not been effective at all at reducing emissions.

Interestingly, however, the results suggest there is uncertainty across the board when it comes to how Canadians view efforts to tackle climate change.

When asked their views on Canada’s effectiveness to date at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 72 per cent of Canadians opted for middle categories of “somewhat effective” or “not very effective.”

3.      A majority of Canadians say we need strict emissions targets to address climate change (Environics)

We know that Canadians care about climate change, but Ecojustice and Climate Action Network also wanted to understand what type of solutions people want to see. As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, we were particularly interested in solutions grounded in the law.

Our polling suggests the majority of Canadians (61 per cent) think strict emissions reductions targets are necessary if governments are to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

4.      A majority of Canadians believe that, in order to be effective, emissions reductions targets must be legally-binding, rather than voluntary. (Environics)

Importantly, Environics polling also showed Canadians support making emissions reduction targets mandatory and legally-binding. More than two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent) told Environics that targets must be enshrined in the law in order to ensure governments take responsibility for meeting them and sticking to their deadlines.

5.      When Canadians head to the polls in October, climate change will be one of the top issues influencing their votes. (Abacus Data)

In March, a total of 69 per cent of respondents said climate change will be in the top five issues they’re voting on, according to a nation-wide Abacus Data survey.

According to the data, concern about climate change was relatively consistent across the country, with only a few provinces standing out as outliers. Concern over climate change was lower than average in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but notably higher in Quebec. MORE