CALGARY — Two new reports from environmental groups say methane emissions in Canada's oil and gas sector are higher than previously thought, as debate continues on how urgently they need to be reduced.
The David Suzuki Foundation partnered with St. Francis Xavier University on a study that found methane emissions from oil and gas sites in British Columbia to be 2.5 times higher than previously reported.
"Our finding is quite staggering," said Ian Bruce, director of the Suzuki Foundation's science and policy department.
"B.C.'s methane pollution problem, and certainly Canada's, is much bigger than previously estimated by government and industry."
The peer-reviewed findings, drawn from measures at over 1,600 well pads in the Montney shale gas formation in northeastern B.C., estimate that operations in the region leak and intentionally release more than 111,800 tonnes of methane annually.
"This is a concern because methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period," said Bruce.
He said the effects of methane means its important for the federal government to return to its original timeline for reducing those emissions, rather than the at least three-year delay it recently made after pressure from industry.
Meanwhile, an Environmental Defence report highlighted data produced by GreenPath Energy Ltd. for the Alberta government that shows methane emissions in that province are 60 per cent higher than previously thought.
GreenPath surveyed 676 oil and gas wells on 395 sites across much of Alberta's gas producing regions and found the number of pumps and controllers on sites that could leak methane was much higher than expected.
Using the updated figure, GreenPath concluded that the five gas-producing areas it studied would have 489,951 annual tonnes of methane emissions from those devices, compared with a 2014 report that showed 306,213 tonnes of methane emissions a year from unreported venting in 2010 for all of Alberta.
Environmental Defence national program manager Dale Marshall said it was concerning that there seems to be an under-reporting of the number of devices on these sites.
"If there are many more devices than being reported at facilities, then either they're under-reporting on purpose, or they don't know. Either way it's problematic," he said.
Marshall said that more should be done to reduce methane emissions because it's one of the lowest cost solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions overall.
Joshua Anhalt, president at GreenPath North America, said that while the number of devices found in the study was higher than anticipated, there's still the potential for that number to go even higher since there's still a lot to learn on methane emissions.
"We've only looked at the tip of the iceberg as an industry," said Anhalt, adding that the good news is there are technologies readily available to quickly reduce or eliminate leaking methane.
Chelsie Klassen, spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, however, challenged the findings of the studies and questioned their methodology.
"Industry does not support the findings or recommendations of these studies due to their limited scope and misrepresentation of reporting mechanisms currently in place," Klassen said in an email.
She said there are requirements in place to detect and repair leaks, and industry has been working with regulators and governments on ways to further reduce emissions.
CAPP has, however, also pushed to delay new federal methane regulations, saying in submissions released under access to information that the proposed timeline is aggressive and that it is not a good time to impose extra costs on industry.
The association said it is committed to the target of a 40 to 45 per cent methane emission reduction by 2025 from 2012 levels, but looking for more flexibility on how to get there.
— With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa