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Stricter oilpatch methane rules unveiled by federal government

The new rules were announced by federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, U.A.E., on Monday.

The proposed regulations are similar to those announced in recent days by the United States and are designed to

help Canada reach and exceed its 2030 target of slashing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by at least 75 per cent below 2012 levels.

Methane is an odourless, colourless gas and is considered to be about 80 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

"We're seeing here the beginning of a global movement toward almost eliminating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector," said Guilbeault, pointing to how lowering methane emissions from the oilpatch is one of the fastest and most cost-effective ways to cut the pollution that is fuelling climate change.

The new regulations include requirements for oil and gas companies to plug methane leaks and prohibit flaring. Regular inspections of facilities are also mandated.

The regulations will cover thousands of domestic oil and gas facilities. Consultations with provincial governments and other stakeholders will begin Dec. 16.

"Voluntary action will never be sufficient," said Stephane Hallegatte Sr., a climate change adviser at the World Bank, in an interview.

"Regulations are really, really important. You have to ask all oil and gas companies to check for those leaks. There are great new technologies to monitor leaks in real-time and to act on them," he said.

'This is something we're committed to doing'

Steep reductions in global methane could slow the projected increase in global average temperatures by up to 0.1 C by 2050, according to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in October.

The focus of COP28 is to reduce emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrialized levels, which is considered vital to avoiding climate catastrophe.

"I am very happy the Canadian government took this action," said IEA president Fatih Birol.

"To fix the methane problem, you don't need to discover a new technology. You just need to be determined," he said, referencing the efforts of government, regulators and industry.

The regulations could increase costs for the oilpatch, although the sector has acknowledged there's a need to reduce methane emissions quicker.

"Canada has a lot to be proud of in the oil and gas sector when it comes to our methane emissions reductions. We're well, far ahead of many other countries around the world that are oil-producing jurisdictions," said Rhona DelFrari, chief sustainability officer at Calgary-based Cenovus Energy.

The oil and gas producer has cut its methane emissions by 59 per cent over the last three years, said DelFrari, with a reduction goal of 80 per cent by 2028 compared to 2019 levels.

Venting and flaring in the oilpatch and how Saskatchewan ranks against Alberta and B.C. (4:05)

"Methane is something that we know how to address right away, and we're doing it," DelFrari said in an interview with CBC News in Dubai. "This is something we're committed to doing."

When oil is pumped out of the ground, a varying amount of methane also comes to the surface. Some companies capture those gases and transport them in a pipeline to be sold as natural gas, while others release the gases into the atmosphere (venting) or burn them (flaring).

"Methane is the no-brainer of Canadian climate policy. It's relatively cheap for companies to eliminate and it will have a big bang for their buck when it comes to taking a bite out of climate change," said Rick Smith, president of the Canadian Climate Institute.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has already announced her intention to challenge the federal government's proposed clean electricity regulations. On Monday, she signalled her opposition to the proposed methane rules, too.

"The federal government has unilaterally established new methane emissions rules and targets," the Alberta premier and provincial Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz said in a joint statement.

"Managing emissions from Alberta's oil and gas industry is our constitutional right and responsibility," the statement said.

Last week, the province announced it had reduced methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 45 per cent since 2014.

China refuses to sign pledge

More than 150 nations are committing to cutting methane emissions and have signed on to the Global Methane Pledge, which has a goal of slashing those emissions by 30 per cent worldwide by 2030 compared to 2020 levels.

One country refusing to join is China, which is the world's largest emitter of methane, predominantly from coal mining and agriculture.

But there are signs China is changing its stance, as the country added methane to its 2035 climate action plan last month. This past weekend in Dubai, U.S. and Chinese officials also hosted a "methane summit."

One of the challenges of tackling methane emissions is proper accounting of how much methane is being released into the air. Monitoring technology is improving, such as the development of sophisticated sensors and satellites, but experts have said the accuracy of current data can still be improved.

As part of Monday's announcement, the federal government also committed $30 million to establish a Methane Centre of Excellence to improve the reporting of methane emissions and focus on data and measurement.

Kyle Bakx Business reporter Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with the network business unit at CBC News. He files stories from across the country and internationally for web, radio, TV and social media platforms. You can email story ideas to

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