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Methane emissions underestimated, a growing number of reports suggest

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As the federal government moves to tighten regulations on methane emissions, new assessments suggest the amount of the potent greenhouse gas escaping into the atmosphere has been significantly underestimated.

A recent survey of oil and gas facilities in Canada found widespread methane releases. Satellite imagery saw giant plumes of the gas escaping landfills. And published research suggests claims of success at curtailing the gas may be partly the result of accounting changes, not actual reductions.

“There’s uncontrolled methane everywhere,” said Tim Doty, a former longtime senior regulator for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who used an infrared camera to look for emissions at oil and gas facilities along the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary last July.

Doty, brought to Canada by the David Suzuki Foundation, surveyed 128 sites around Lloydminster, Alta., and Kindersley, Sask.

“It wasn’t a problem finding emissions,” he said. “It was a problem with the number of hours in a day.

“I just can’t describe the magnitude of the emissions we saw.”

Doty said he saw flares, used to dispose of unwanted methane from oil wells, burning off far less than the 98 per cent of the gas they are assumed to. He saw flares operating unlit, which turns them into a methane vent. He saw very few vapour recovery units, which collect fugitive gases.

Doty’s familiar with Texas’ Permian basin, which he calls “the worst” for methane release.

“I wouldn’t say what I saw in Canada was much better,” he said.

A Montreal company called GHGSat is using six orbiting satellites to track methane releases in real-time. Just over the last week, it has found two significant plumes from landfills in Quebec — one releasing more than a tonne of methane an hour.

That’s significantly more than the official figure, based on modelling and estimates. Actual measurements are showing those estimates are lowball.

“The method of choice across the world has been estimates,” said Jean-Francois Gauthier, vice-president of GHGSat. “These have been shown to be wildly inadequate.”

Elisabeth Besson, spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said industry is on track to reduce methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2025. She said emissions intensity was cut by a third between 2011 and 2019.

She said tank vents, pneumatics and pumps are being improved and venting and flaring are being reduced.

“CAPP and its members have made emissions reduction a priority and will continue to invest in innovation,” she wrote in an email.

Still, production volumes have increased. Data from the European Union show Canada is the only G7 country where methane emissions have increased since 1990, although the rate of increase is slowing.

Other studies suggest methane, 83 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years, is underestimated.

A 2016 study from Carleton University using airplane overflights concluded Alberta’s emissions were up to 50 per cent higher than federal estimates. In February, the International Energy Agency warned that, worldwide, about 70 per cent more methane was reaching the atmosphere than governments report.

Even Canada’s successes may be overstated. A peer-reviewed study last week suggested they may be at least partly the result of a change made in 2020 in how emissions are calculated.

Researchers from the Environmental Defense Fund found a dramatic drop in Alberta’s emissions between 2019 and 2020 coincided with a new method of calculating them. When they applied the old method to the new data, the drop was much less.

“Does this just mean that the change in accounting has resulted in an apparent decrease?” asked co-author Scott Seymour. “That’s what it appears to be.”

The questions over just how much methane Canada pumps into the atmosphere come as the federal government expands regulation of the gas.

Canada is now developing regulations that would apply to all natural gas facilities, minimize use of flares, ensure those that exist work properly, increase inspection and require equipment upgrades. The new rules are to include comprehensive, consistent emission monitoring and reporting.

It can’t come soon enough, said Doty.

“I don’t think — and my experience tells me — that regulatory authorities have any idea of how much methane is going into the atmosphere. It’s just an estimate.

“And I guarantee you, it’s an underestimate.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2022,

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960.

 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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K’omoks First Nation signs draft treaty with B.C., federal governments

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COURTENAY, BRITISH COLUMBIA – Officials with the K’omoks First Nation and the B.C. and federal governments have signed a draft treaty in a step toward the nation’s self-governance.

K’omoks Chief Ken Price says it was an “exciting, memorable, and emotional day” for the community on Vancouver Island as it marked another step toward a treaty.

Price says in a statement that many K’omoks leaders have been part of negotiations over the last 30 years aiming to “build the best treaty possible.”

He says treaties are “the highest form of reconciliation between nations.”

The draft treaty must still be ratified by a vote among K’omoks members, and Price says the next step is to ensure questions are answered to ensure their community members feel they are making an informed decision.

A statement from Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada says the initialling marks a milestone on the nation’s path to self-governance.

If the 351 registered K’omoks members vote to ratify the treaty, the statement says the B.C. and federal governments would then adopt it through legislation.

The full ratification process is expected to take three years, with the treaty coming into effect in 2028, the statement says.

The minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, Gary Anandasangaree, says the initialling “marks a pivotal step away from centuries of colonial policies.”

“After 30 years of negotiations involving K’omoks, Canada, and British Columbia, this treaty embodies transformative policy innovations crucial to advancing reconciliation,” he says in the statement. “For Canada, achieving this milestone … represents a significant stride toward genuine nation-to-nation relationships built on mutual respect, partnership, and the full recognition of rights.”

K’omoks is the latest First Nations to sign a draft treaty with the federal and provincial governments, following proposed deals with the Kitselas Nation and the Kitsumkalum Band, part of the Tsimshian First Nation in B.C.’s northwest.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

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More zebra mussels found in Manitoba, this time in a popular reservoir

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WINNIPEG – The Manitoba government is dealing with another discovery of zebra mussels.

The province says two positive samples have been detected in the St. Malo Reservoir — a popular swimming, kayaking and camping destination in a provincial park south of Winnipeg.

Conservation officers are monitoring the area to make sure boaters clean their watercraft.

Zebra mussels are an invasive aquatic species that can harm fish populations and clog water intake systems.

Last fall, Parks Canada found live zebra mussels in Clear Lake north of Brandon, Man., and later closed the lake to most watercraft.

Earlier this month, Parks Canada found an adult zebra mussel in a cove in Clear Lake, suggesting the mollusks are building a presence in the lake.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

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Tenants offered accommodations and support after surprise mass eviction

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WINNIPEG – Some tenants of an apartment building moved back in Monday, more than a week after they say they were forced out on a few hours’ notice by a new landlord who put some of their belongings on the front lawn.

“(I’ll) start over, I guess,” said Devony Hudson, who picked up a new set of keys Monday morning as police officers, a private security firm and Manitoba government workers kept an eye on the three-storey brick building, built more than a century ago.

Some of the building’s windows were broken or boarded up. A notice on the front door from the Winnipeg Fire Department said the fire alarm and sprinkler system were out of service.

Hudson said a caretaker came to her door two weekends ago, told her she had to leave immediately and offered her a few hundred dollars. Shortly after, her belongings were outside.

“I just went for a walk, just for like 10 minutes, came back and it was … all on the front lawn.”

Hudson has been spending the last few days in a nearby house that does not have working electricity.

In another suite, Kyle Lemke got a knock on the door. He said he was told the locks were being changed, and a man he had never met who said he was the owner told him he had to leave within 24 hours and offered some money.

“I threw out so much stuff,” Lemke recalled while standing outside a hotel where he has been staying.

“I had maybe four garbage bags and a laundry bag, but I wasn’t able to take everything,” said Lemke, who walks with a limp after almost losing a leg months ago to necrotizing fasciitis.

Lemke said he was told everyone had to leave because of an order from the city over fire hazards, but the city never gave an evacuation order.

Attempts by The Canadian Press to reach the building’s owner were unsuccessful.

The Manitoba government moved last week to support the tenants.

The provincial minister for housing, Bernadette Smith, said the actions the tenants described are illegal and an investigation is underway.

The residential tenancies branch issued orders to the landlord, had the locks changed and made arrangements for the tenants to start returning. The province offered tenants emergency accommodations and per diems for food.

But some tenants were not able to be tracked down.

Marion Willis, who runs an outreach program that helps people find housing and other services, said some tenants had previously been in encampments and had nowhere to go when they were told to leave.

“We have tried to find people. There’s people in encampments, there’s people that are couch-surfing in other buildings. There’s people that are just sleeping out on the street,” said Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links.

Some tenants may be reluctant to return for fear that they may simply face a more formal eviction process and end up homeless again.

Lemke said he has no interest in going back, and had a new apartment lined up. He’d like to see someone held accountable.

“I would like to see justice,” he said.

“You can’t just do that to people.”

The provincial government said Monday at least two tenants had returned over the weekend and a probe of the landlord’s actions was ongoing.

“In this situation, the (residential tenancies branch) has a number of options available, but is still working through the investigation,” said a written statement from the government’s central communications office.

“Depending on the outcome of the investigations, these measures could include the imposition of further orders, administrative fines and prosecution for contraventions under the legislation.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.



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