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Alberta NDP not celebrating carbon capture milestone




cropped-Screen-Shot-2016-09-09-at-20.58.10.jpgFrom left, Alberta Minister of Energy Marg McCuaig-Boyd, Shell Canada President Lorraine Mitchelmore, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell Ben van Beurden, Marathon Oil Executive Brian Maynard, Shell ER Manager, Stephen Velthuizen, and British High Commissioner to Canada Howard Drake open the valve to the Quest carbon capture and storage facility in Fort Saskatchewan Alta, on Friday November 6, 2015. Quest is designed to capture and safely store more than one million tonnes of CO2 each year an equivalent to the emissions from about 250,000 cars. JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Just a few days ago, Alberta marked a milestone in the battle against climate change.


Not that you would have heard much about it, especially not from the Alberta government.

Which is odd when you consider just how important the battle against climate change is for Alberta’s NDP government.

However, this milestone was posted thanks to a project using carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCS is not a favourite of the NDP government.

Let me explain.

Over the past year, in what is known as the “Quest project,” Shell Canada has used CCS to capture more than one million tonnes of carbon dioxide from its Scotford upgrader in Fort Saskatchewan and inject it into a porous rock formation two kilometres underground.

“This is a significant milestone for our company and for our industry to be able to have Quest up and running for an entire year, and to be able to capture our one millionth tonne, it’s quite exciting for us,” said Shell spokesman Conal MacMillan.

It is indeed exciting, from a technical point of view, and the people at Shell are duly proud.

But the Alberta government wasn’t celebrating.

CCS is a failed legacy of the old Progressive Conservatives government.

Back in 2008, then-premier Ed Stelmach announced his government was committing $2 billion for CCS projects.

The Alberta government foresaw a world where countries would legislate a reduction on emissions. Carbon capture and sequestration seemed to be the solution to force emissions down, and by announcing $2 billion worth of experiments, Alberta hoped to be first out of the blocks and a world leader in the technology.

Put bluntly, CCS would allow us to keep burning fossil fuels, especially coal. We’d simply capture the CO2 emissions in the smokestack, compress them into a fluid and pump them underground. The technology could be used to reduce some emissions from the oilsands (via projects such as Quest at the Scotford upgrader), but the main target was emissions from coal-fired plants.

However, the world economy stalled in 2008, and politicians suddenly lacked the money and political will for such green initiatives on a grand scale.

CCS is terribly expensive. Although there are CCS projects worldwide, they need government subsidies and, when it comes to reducing emissions on a massive scale, they are still experimental.

Nonetheless, Alberta pressed ahead with its plans, but the companies that had been interested began to pull out.

Politicians from all stripes criticized CCS as a waste of resources and money — New Democrats because they saw it as a subsidy to energy companies, the Wildrosers because back in 2008 they still thought of human-induced climate change as unproven if not an outright hoax.

Even the PCs began to have second thoughts. In 2014, then-premier Jim Prentice dismissed CCS as a “science experiment.”

But by then the Alberta government had signed contracts worth $1.3 billion with two companies — the Quest project and the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (which might be running in 2017).

The NDP government is stuck with the projects, even though it does its best to ignore them. When Notley unveiled her climate change plan at the Edmonton Science Centre in 2015, there wasn’t a peep about CCS, even though just around the corner from her podium was an exhibit touting the Quest project.

Oh, how the mighty CCS has fallen. At one time the PC government confidently predicted CCS would account for 70 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions reductions in Alberta. That was a number pulled out of the air, by the way, based on politics not science. The PCs put so many eggs in the CCS basket because they had no other way of explaining how they would reduce emissions — especially if we kept burning coal to produce electricity.

Along came the 2015 provincial election and Alberta’s first NDP government that wants to get rid of all coal-fired plants.

Since the main reason for CCS is to let us keep burning coal, the NDP hasn’t much use for CCS — or for ceremonies to mark any CCS milestones.

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Twitter: Graham_Journal


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