Ottawa’s opposition to natural gas hurting Canadians and the world

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Appeared in the Calgary Sun, November 2, 2022
Ottawa’s opposition to natural gas hurting Canadians and the world

Governments in Canada have been on a mission, which began in earnest in 2015, to shut down fossil fuel production, distribution, consumption and (indirectly) trade.

While opposition to the oilsands has gotten the most attention, the Trudeau government’s antipathy to fossil fuels also extends to natural gas production, distribution and trade. And as a consequence, Canada is sitting on the sidelines of the global natural gas market at a time when it could be a mitigating influence on (not to be melodramatic about things) the potential for a nuclear exchange in Europe and that continent’s forthcoming nightmare energy scenarios, which include large numbers of people shivering to death in the dark and a return to burning of wood and coal, exacerbating actual temporal and tangible environmental problems including ambient air pollution, deforestation, wilderness destruction and water pollution.

It's too late, of course, for Canada to do anything meaningful about all that in terms of dropping a bunch of natural gas into European markets to lessen the pain, weaken Putin’s hold on Europe or change the political dynamic to reduce the possibility that the war in Ukraine will escalate into a nuclear exchange.

However, it’s not too late for Canada to reconsider its stance on natural gas production, distribution, consumption and trade, not only for the immediate benefit of Canadians but also to help stabilize world energy markets a bit once this particular paroxysm in Europe reaches its crescendo.

Remember, Canada is a massive holder of natural gas reserves. According to Natural Resources Canada, the federal department in charge, the country has 71 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of proven gas reserves (as of 2019), which puts us at 17th on the list of global natural gas reserves. That’s not as impressive as Canada’s ranking on proven oil reserves (4th globally) but it’s still about one per cent of the world’s reserves. But that’s only conventional reserves. Marketable/technically recoverable gas resources in Canada are estimated at 384 TCF (conventional) and 994 TCF (unconventional/shale, etc.). Yes, most of that is in Alberta, but not all. The Atlantic provinces have some 130 TCF in unconventional reserves and the Utica shale formation in Quebec has some 181 TCF in reserves.

Any yet, by stifling natural gas development and export, governments in Canada—particularly the federal government—have deprived Canadians of considerable wealth and the returns of global energy trade, and shelved an important potential part of Canada’s geopolitical “soft power” as the world goes through an energy crisis that Canada might well have softened. These policies have also helped enable a return to coal and wood burning (and their associated greenhouse gas emissions).

The federal government and provincial governments across the country would do well to learn from all this and end their opposition to the development of unconventional natural gas reserves and their addition to global energy markets. It’s too late for this round of global energy disruption and misery, but we could possibly dampen the next one.

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