Ideas

October 28, 2020

OPINION | How Alberta’s natural gas strategy is actually an important pivot

As appeared in Calgary Herald

Recently, the Alberta government announced a major new natural gas strategy. Natural gas represents immense opportunities for Alberta — as a low emissions fuel of today and as a key part of a developing hydrogen strategy.

This marks an important pivot for Alberta, as the strategy sets out a long-term future for Alberta’s resource industry in a way that is sustainable, environmental and low carbon. The three essential planks are expanding low carbon natural gas, plastics recycling and hydrogen.

Here’s what each one will mean for Albertans:

Natural Gas

At home in Alberta, and as many jurisdictions around the world look to displace higher emitting carbon sources, natural gas is an option for power generation. The single largest contribution that Canada can make to reducing global carbon emissions is through increasing its export of natural gas to offset higher emissions fuel sources around the world. Canada’s natural gas is the lowest carbon on earth, helped in large part by the green hydroelectricity of our western neighbours.

urrently, Canada has one excellent LNG project underway, Shell’s LNG Canada. To replace coal generation in China alone, we could build a total of 36 more LNG projects of similar size and decrease global emissions by Canada’s total several times over. Even realizing a fraction of this opportunity could put tens of thousands of people to work.

Yes, this may increase domestic emissions in some areas. Increasingly, emissions reductions and carbon capture can work to address this. And, as any Alberta hiker knows, the fastest way up a mountain is by taking the smart path, not aiming straight for the top and intending to charge through timber, marsh and rock. We must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

These expansions will require interprovincial co-operation, Indigenous partnerships and an enabling federal government as a partner. Delays in upgrading our gas infrastructure are today costing Canadians jobs, costing Canadians prosperity and resulting in slower transitions off coal — both in Alberta and around the world. Moves like the recently approved NGTL gas pipeline expansion will have a significant emissions reduction benefit in Alberta, in addition to the jobs and economic benefits.

Recycling

Alberta becoming a North American recycling powerhouse by 2030 is a diversification strategy that builds on our strengths and also embraces our responsibilities. Done right, recycling could enable the holy grail of sustainability for the chemistry industry in Alberta — a circular economy that benefits business, society and the environment in a sustainable and self-reinforcing system.

It’s also an important recognition that plastics in and of themselves are not the problem, and they certainly are not toxic substances to be treated the same as asbestos, DDT and sulfuric acid. Rather, the challenge we must overcome is that of proper disposal, reuse and recycling. From kayaks to climbing ropes, solar panels to Tesla batteries, plastics are a product we’ll only need more of in the future. Did you know that 50 per cent of any vehicle’s volume is made up of plastic? Globally, plastics recycling is a broken system. That is just the kind of challenge Albertans like to take on.

Hydrogen

By 2040 Alberta will be a global hydrogen player. This is critically important because hydrogen is a zero-emissions fuel source. Blue hydrogen, made from Canadian natural gas with sequestered carbon, can be done with some of the lowest costs and lowest carbon intensity of anywhere on earth. Other countries like Germany are making huge investments in hydrogen use and these countries can be our customers if we get in front of this curve. Canada lags in its hydrogen strategy, and so we must act with decisiveness and speed to capture the global position.

Hydrogen is also very important for our collective Albertan and Canadian narrative. We know that we need to dramatically decrease global carbon emissions. Hydrogen is a pathway that shows a 100-year future for Alberta’s resources as we transition to zero-emissions fuels.

These three planks mark a major new direction for the province, and our politicians should be applauded for it, as bold new directions are hard to do. Will we get national and global investor credit for it? That remains to be seen. But, the right thing to do remains the right thing to do whether or not you get credit for it.

Low carbon natural gas, recycling and hydrogen; these are not political ideas, they are Albertan ideas. Many of their roots can be found in the 2018 Natural Gas Advisory Panel report commissioned under then-premier Rachel Notley, and now bought to life under Premier Jason Kenney. Let’s all get behind them.

Adam Legge is president of the Business Council of Alberta.

Feature image credit: Calgary Herald

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