Dabrusin fails to mention impact of downstream emissions
On May 31, 2022, we sent a letter to a Member of Parliament named Julie Dabrusin. Most Canadians will never have heard of her. We all have a duty and responsibility to challenge anyone who poses as a politician concerned about climate policy. Dabrusin is one of those.
A month ago, in a rare and extraordinary exchange in Parliament (where the subject of Canada’s increasing oil production is rarely if ever raised by any Member of Parliament, whether Liberal, Conservative or NDP), Elizabeth May on May 19, 2022, asked a question that focused on the incompatibility between the government’s approval of the new Bay du Nord offshore oil project and Canada’s Paris commitment to limit warming to 1.5°C.
Responding on behalf of the Trudeau Government, Julie Dabrusin – who is the Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and for the Minister of Natural Resources – gave a foolish and rambling answer that misled Parliament and misled all Canadians about the consequences of this new oil project and how it will accelerate the already far advanced peril of global heating.
In her answer, Dabrusin excluded any reference to the catastrophic implications of the massive additional volumes of CO2 that will be released into the atmosphere over the next 30 years when the oil from the Bay du Nord oil field is exported and burned as fuel in foreign markets. She included a ludicrous claim that the world needs more oil to provide lubricant for bicycle chains – which she pointed out is a “non-combustion” use for oil. It was an appalling performance, a grotesque evasion of the truth. And it was sadly typical of almost all discussions of Canada’s expanding oil production.
On April 6, 2022, the Federal Government had announced the approval of a major new offshore oil field in Newfoundland that is expected to come into production by 2028. Known as Bay du Nord, it will contribute an additional 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) to Canada’s oil production level. The approval of the Bay du Nord project, along with the ongoing increase of oil sands production in Alberta, commits us to a massive expansion of Canada’s oil production for another 10 to 20 years, and high production levels to 2050.
Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) accounts for about 70% of total global emissions every year. Oil alone accounts for about one-third of that amount. The deep emissions cuts that are required by 2030 cannot be achieved if oil production continues to increase.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Net-Zero by 2050 report released in May 2021 warned that to meet that goal and stay on a pathway to 1.5°C, global oil consumption must decline 25% below the 2019 level by 2030 (down to 74 million bpd) – and decline 50% by 2040.
Elizabeth May’s question was straightforward: how do we reconcile Canada’s plans to continue increasing Canada’s oil production and the immediate need to achieve deep reductions in global oil use within the next eight years?
Dabrusin did not answer the question. After a few time-consuming digressions, the Parliamentary Secretary responded:
The federal government accepted the environmental assessment of the Impact Assessment Agency regarding the Bay du Nord project after four years of consideration and scrutiny by scientific experts. The projected emissions from Bay du Nord are 10 times less than the oil sands on average and five times less than the average oil and gas project. Ultimately, I am going to highlight this, because it is something important to me as I look at all this: the atmosphere sees emissions, but it does not see production barrel numbers.— Hansard, May 19, 2022, Julie Dabrusin, MP for Toronto-Danforth (emphasis added)
Dabrusin was referring to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that will be released into the atmosphere at the production site in Newfoundlandduring the offshore oil extraction process. Those are the so-called “upstream emissions”, the portion of emissions released within Canada’s borders before the product is exported to foreign markets.
But what Dabrusin did not mention at all is the much greater scale of the “downstream emissions”.
In the case of the Bay du Nord project, more than 95% of the life-cycle emissions from every barrel of oil we produce will occur after the extraction process is completed, after we export our oil, when it is burned as fuel in cars and trucks (“downstream emissions”) and released into the atmosphere as tailpipe emissions. There is no existing technology that can “remove” those downstream emissions from the atmosphere once they are released.
The environmental assessment report, cited by Dabrusin to suggest the climate implications of this project had been fully examined, did not even look at the downstream emissions.
Dabrusin pointed out that in the case of the oil sands, emissions per barrel during the extraction process in Alberta are 10 times greater than the expected level of emissions per barrel during the extraction process at the Bay du Nord project. She was assuring Canadians that Bay du Nord oil will be “cleaner”.
But once crude oil is produced and after it is refined (in the case of Canada’s oil exports almost all the emissions-intensive refining process takes place in foreign countries), the emissions during the final combustion stage when it is burned as transportation fuel are virtually identical, whatever the type or source of the oil. The combustion emissions are by far the largest share of emissions, and account for most of the downstream emissions. They will be the same for the oil exported from Bay du Nord as they are for oil from Alberta’s oil sands.
The downstream emissions do not get counted in our national emissions, and we do not include them in setting Canada’s emissions reduction targets. In the case of Bay du Nord, they will account for over 95% of the total emissions for every barrel we produce. Julie Dabrusin is completely silent about those emissions. Yet the scientific evidence is clear that cumulative global emissions are driving the warming of the atmosphere. That includes the downstream emissions from our exported oil.
Click the yellow button to get the letter (opens as a PDF in your browser).