Issues around air quality and climate change are front and centre in environmental policy discussions at all levels—municipally, provincially, nationally and internationally, a Petroleum Technology Alliance Canada air issues forum heard recently.

“The status quo is no longer an option,” Shannon Flint, assistant deputy minister of Environment and Parks, said in a speech delivered on her behalf by Hamid Namsechi, section head of the air policy section. “We have a reasonable plan, we are looking for your input and we are looking for your help.”

The renewal of Alberta’s Climate Change Strategy is a priority for the government with leadership by Premier Rachel Notley and Shannon Phillips, environment and parks minister, who plan to attend the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris in December, said Flint. “Alberta wants to be a leader in environmental stewardship and resource sustainability,” she said. “Canada cannot be seen as lagging behind.”

PTAC has facilitated both fundamental and applied research to deal with the issue of solution gas flaring, in particular the inefficiency in the flaring combustion process, since the 1990s, she noted.

The conservation of solution gas and recent technologies to help conserve and better use it is another issue of interest, said Flint. Broadening of the mandate to consider solution gas venting and associated controls is good public and environmental policy as longer chain hydrocarbons can be odorous and photochemically active, she said. “Additionally, black carbon emissions

[from flares] are significant in relation to air contamination and climate change.”

PTAC also has helped to facilitate research that has answered (and continues to answer) fundamental questions around venting and that information has been used to develop and implement environmental regulatory policy concerning solution gas venting. Although public concerns initially were raised in the Peace River area of northwestern Alberta, the Alberta Energy Regulator introduced new requirements for flaring, venting and incineration across the province (DOB, June 14, 2014).

In terms of climate change renewal in Alberta, the government has demonstrated its commitment to address climate change through pricing tools with renewal of the Specified Gas Emitters regulation to increase greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements, said Flint (DOB, June 25, 2015). “Though this is only one step forward, our increased reduction requirements and increased price represent the direction the province is heading.”

The government also appointed a climate change advisory panel chaired by Andrew Leach, a University of Alberta professor, to lead a public engagement process. The panel is gathering input from Albertans, industry leaders, municipal leaders and Aboriginal peoples on how Alberta can take leadership on climate change, she said.

Later this fall, the government will use this advice to help develop a comprehensive new plan that demonstrates its leadership in addressing climate change, said Flint. This plan, she said, will include a long-term approach to moving towards a low carbon economy through carbon pricing, renewable energy, energy efficiency and a number of other opportunities.

In the question and answer session that followed, Namsechi was asked by a PTAC member whether the cost of capturing vented solution gas that currently is not economic would be considered as a carbon offset. “Everything is on the table,” the bureaucrat responded.

By Elsie Ross

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