Pathways to Net Zero?

This post was written by Oil Sands Divestment and published on June 23, 2021.

On June 9th, 2021 to the five big oil sands companies, Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial, MEG Energy and Suncor Energy, which account for 90 percent of Canada’s oil sands production, announced their Pathways to Net Zero initiative to attempt to achieve net-zero GHG emissions from the companies’ oil sands operations by 2050.

There have been many statements made by corporations over the last year concerning “net zero”, and when the companies responsible for a considerable percentage of Canada’s GHG emissions come out with a commitment it’s worth analyzing it, as it will affect all of our futures.

The main strategy the oil sands companies are betting on is Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS), basically capturing the carbon that is released and either storing it or using it.

CCUS may be one means of reducing GHG – it’s a fairly new technology but has been trialled in Europe, and the International Energy Agency has produced a useful report discussing its advantages and disadvantages.

But what is missing from the Pathways to Net Zero Initiative is any reduction in oil production – reading between the lines the Initiative says: “we are going to keep extracting oil at the same or a higher level than today, and deal with the climate change implications of this solely through new technology”. Plans for actual reductions are coming, the press release says, at some unspecified time in the future.

This is a little like constantly punching someone in the arm and then giving them some ice to deal with the bruising – it doesn’t deal with the problem, which is that the oil sands are one of the most polluting substances on the planet. A better solution is to stop the punching – start reducing the amount of oil that is extracted and move towards renewables. An effective initiative would have clear indicators for phasing out the oil sands, which will definitely solve the problem, rather than reliance on a technology that may or may not work. 

Shareholders beware – vague statements about GHG emissions using technology that may be promising at some unstated future date are unlikely to boost share prices.