Federal environment minister turned down meeting with major oilsands companies during Alberta visit | CBC News

Canada’s environment minister was in Alberta this week speaking to handfuls of stakeholders and politicians about decarbonization and clean energy.

But Minister Steven Guilbeault turned down a request for a meeting with major oil and gas company CEOs during the trip — amid industry anxiety about federal policies and timelines to reduce emissions.

The Pathways Alliance, a consortium of companies representing 95 per cent of oilsands production, asked for time with the minister during his visit to Calgary on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Two senior oil company executives told CBC News that Guilbeault’s office declined the request.

“Minister Guilbeault was unable to accommodate a meeting with Pathways Alliance during this visit,” a statement from Pathways confirmed.

“We are always willing to discuss with the minister ways we can collaborate to significantly reduce emissions from oilsands operations by 2030.”

Guilbeault’s office said the minister was only in Calgary for 36 hours. A department official was made available to meet with Pathways representatives.

“I had a pretty packed agenda,” Guilbeault said Thursday.

“I felt it would be important to meet with people I have less of a chance to talk to.”

But one oil executive expressed disappointment at being left off the minister’s itinerary given the weighty decarbonization policies he’s currently stickhandling.

“We are working well with the department, but it is frustrating when the minister is here he wants us to move faster but he doesn’t want to meet with us to discuss a plan,” they said.

CBC News has agreed not to name them, as they were not authorized to discuss company matters publicly.

Guilbeault stickhandling impending emissions policies

The trip comes as Ottawa is pushing toward ambitious emissions reduction targets by the end of the decade.

Canada has committed to reaching net-zero by 2050, a timeline the industry and provincial government also subscribe to. The interim goals are more contentious.

The federal government’s 2030 targets would require the oil and gas sector to cut emissions 42 per cent below 2019 levels — a reduction so large the industry and province have called it a de facto production cap, and warned it isn’t feasible without significant economic sacrifices.

Last week, Guilbeault called for a global commitment to phase out “unabated” fossil fuels (oil and gas projects that don’t rely on technology to capture their emissions). He’s also leading the development of an impending emissions cap that could set limits at a total not seen since 1992.

And the federal government is also about to release a plan to end billions in “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies.

Recent budgets have promised billions in tax credits and other incentives for green technology like carbon capture — spurred by the need to remain competitive with historic spending in the U.S. via the Inflation Reduction Act.

The minister’s office noted “frequent communication” has happened between staff, officials and the oil and gas industry, including several meetings with Pathways in the past 18 months. Alberta and Ottawa have also agreed to a working group on energy matters.

“This includes how to align our investments in hydrogen, CCUS (carbon capture, utilization and storage), SMRs (small modular reactors) and to continue engagement on the upcoming oil and gas emissions cap and the Clean Electricity Regulations,” Guilbeault’s office said.

Alberta won’t co-operate on current timelines

The minister met with stakeholders like the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, the Business Council of Alberta, environmental groups, small energy producers, carbon conversion technology workers and his provincial counterparts, ministers Rebecca Schulz (environment) and Todd Loewen (forestry).

Their meetings focused on greening the electricity grid and emissions reduction. The federal government has set a timeline of 2035 for decarbonizing electricity production. While not directly tied to the oilsands, many producers have cogeneration plants that also produce electricity.

“I informed Minister Guilbeault that our government remains resolutely opposed to any federal cap on oil and gas emissions or electricity regulations that are not expressly consented to by Alberta,” Schulz said in a statement.

Alberta has requested the government share its data and risk analyses on the impacts of 2035 and 2050 targets with the province.

In 2021, the oil and gas sector produced more than a quarter of Canada’s total emissions. By 2030, Ottawa wants to see an 81 megatonne reduction in annual oil and gas emissions. Pathways says 22 megatonnes is achievable.

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