OTTAWA | TRADITIONAL, UNCEDED TERRITORY OF THE ALGONQUIN ANISHNAABEG PEOPLE  — As serious underreporting of methane emissions was recently unveiled by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment are calling for funding and a data hub as key federal actions to address emissions from the potent greenhouse gas.

Following on the commissioner’s report that found methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are underestimated in Canada by anywhere from 25 to 90 per cent, the organizations joined MP Elizabeth May today in calling for funding for measurement initiatives to track progress against goals and a new data hub or methane census with industry partners to foster transparency and collaboration.

“Without a measurement-based inventory of methane, we’ll continue to dramatically underestimate emissions and be unable to assess whether the oil and gas industry is cleaning up its act,” said Tom Green, senior climate policy adviser at the Foundation. “It’s crucial for the government to move ahead immediately with a centre of excellence for methane monitoring and measurement to meet the commitment to ensuring the oil and gas industry eliminates at least 75 per cent of methane emissions by 2030. We need to move from inaccurate industry-reported data to federal funding to support accurate measuring and monitoring of methane emissions so the sector can be properly regulated.”

“As a health professional in a province that is actively expanding hydraulic fracturing, and has seen deadly heat, flooding and wildfires driven by climate change, I see methane emissions as highly relevant to the health of the communities I serve,” said Melissa Lem, a Vancouver family physician and president of CAPE. “Methane is responsible for over 25 per cent of global heating, and reducing oil and gas methane emissions is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to slow climate change and protect health in Canada. The good news is that much of the technology needed to eliminate methane is readily available.”

A Canadian methane census and data hub are critical to achieving Canada’s methane targets and would allow Canada to be a global leader on methane.

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Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with more than 80 times the climate warming impact of carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. It is thus imperative to rapidly and aggressively reduce methane emissions, to reduce the pace and amount of global warming. Addressing methane is also one of few early opportunities for rapid, deep emissions reductions in the oil and gas sector.1 Environment and Climate Change Canada is moving forward with stringent new methane regulations to meet the government’s commitment to ensure the oil and gas industry eliminates at least 75 per cent of methane emissions by 2030.

Beyond exacerbating the climate crisis, methane escalates air pollution by generating harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (PM2.5) when it is burned, and ozone. These are linked to asthma in children, other lung and heart diseases, stroke, dementia, hospitalizations in the elderly, premature birth risks in pregnant women and premature deaths.

Currently, methane emissions in Canada’s inventory are based on industry-reported data — which studies have shown is inaccurate due to outdated methods — rather than measuring actual methane releases. A recent cloud of methane pollution over the Alberta and Saskatchewan border surprised government and industry alike and was only discovered because of a European satellite. In Saskatchewan, heavy oil facilities were found to be releasing 3.9 times as much methane as was reported in the inventory. In British Columbia, research shows methane pollution in the oil and gas sector is at least 2.5 times greater than reported by industry and government.

Canada’s methane strategy acknowledges that the current inventory underestimates emissions by anywhere from 25 to 90 per cent.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s April 2023 report on “Emissions Reductions through Greenhouse Gas Regulations” identified concerns with the accuracy of current methane estimates and recommended shifting toward measurement-based estimates.

A “methane census” was recently announced in the U.S. with multiple industry partners to address similar concerns.

The 2021 mandate letter to the federal minister of natural resources includes the establishment of a “global centre for excellence” for oil and gas methane abatement, which should serve to support efforts to accurately measure methane emissions.

Canadian researchers are at the forefront of global efforts to accurately measure these emissions, but there is a need for greater collaboration between provinces, academics, industry and environmental organizations.