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Poll suggests Albertans want tighter methane rules for energy industry

EDMONTON — As governments and regulators consider new rules for methane, a poll suggests nearly three-quarters of Albertans want tighter controls on the release of a potent greenhouse gas from oil and gas facilities.

The poll, done by EKOS research and funded by Environmental Defence, says 71 per cent of those surveyed want regulations on methane release to be at least as strict as those in the U.S.

"We wanted to demonstrate that people in Alberta, in particular, want to see this issue addressed," said Tim Gray with Environmental Defence. "The data shows that they do — they care about it a lot."

Methane, also known as natural gas, is a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent over the long term than carbon dioxide. The energy industry is Canada's largest source and controlling those releases is considered to be one of the most cost-effective ways for the industry to address climate change.

Many American states already have requirements that force companies to inspect more often for leaks and reduce methane venting, Gray said.

The poll says 41 per cent of Albertans think their province should be equally as strict. Another 30 per cent wanted Alberta's rules to be even tighter.

Fourteen per cent of respondents thought the rules should be more relaxed and 15 per cent didn't know.

The poll surveyed more than 1,000 people by phone and online over a two-week period ending Aug. 8 and is considered accurate to within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Gray said Albertans have been living with venting and flaring of gas from energy facilities for decades and have a good understanding of the issue.

"People in Alberta have first-hand experience with methane leaks," he said. "People have had to deal with methane in the form of flaring from a human health perspective. I also think they see it as waste — wasted money, wasted jobs."

Both the federal government and Alberta's energy regulator are designing new rules to reduce those emissions.

The proposed federal regulations would force industry to regularly check for gas leaks and install equipment that prevents the gas from venting. They would apply to oil and gas wells and batteries, natural gas processing plants, compressor stations, and supporting pipelines.

Ottawa estimates that its proposed rules would reduce methane emissions by 282 megatonnes by 2035.

The Alberta Energy Regulator is considering how to meet the government's target of a 45 per cent reduction in methane leaks by 2025. The industry is the province's largest source of methane.

Regulator spokeswoman Shelley Svetanova says draft requirements will go before the public this fall with final rules expected by next summer.

Chelsie Klassen, spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said in an email that the association is committed to reducing methane emissions. She said Alberta has already reduced emissions and outperforms reductions in jurisdictions such as North Dakota and California.

Industry figures say 96.4 per cent of gases were conserved in Alberta in 2016, up from 94.1 per cent in 1999. That means about 770 million cubic metres of gases were released last year, the equivalent of 7.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Gray said industry has resisted legal reduction requirements, arguing instead for guidelines.

"If we go with a much less restrictive approach, the result is going to be much higher methane emissions from Canada than is necessary if we match the approach that's being done in the U.S."

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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