Monday, April 30, 2012

Dead and buried

Others have already pointed out last week's news that oil-sands operators are pulling out of a major carbon capture and storage project. But it's worth taking a closer look at their explanation, and how it compares to the Cons' claim to have the slightest interest in dealing with climate change.

Here's why the oil industry isn't bothering with CCS:

“Our decision was essentially based on the fact that we could not see a way to make the economics of our CCS project work as we originally intended,” said Don Wharton, vice-president of policy and sustainability at TransAlta.

He said markets for pure carbon didn’t develop as expected, and federal and provincial governments took no steps to recognize the value of reduced emissions by implementing a price on carbon, for example, or a cap-and-trade system.

In short, despite nearly $800 million in government subsidies, the company had no incentive to invest in CCS.

Let's keep in mind that the Harper Cons haven't merely poured hundreds of millions of dollars into CCS: they've in fact done so to the exclusion of any other climate-change funding (since their initial period of poorly-feigned interest in the environment when Stephane Dion was Lib leader). And after once suggesting they were willing to implement cap-and-trade as an alternative to a carbon tax, the Cons have since taking to claiming that all they're willing to do about greenhouse gas emissions is to pour money into unspecified innovation.

Such as, for example, the CCS project which is falling apart in the absence of a carbon price. In effect, tar sands operators have figured out the reality that the Cons are determined to avoid any regulation that could require the oil industry to pay any of the cost of the emissions it generates - and are making their long-term business decisions on the assumption that there will never be meaningful regulation of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada as long as Harper holds power.

Now, we shouldn't pretend that CCS - in the tar sands or in power generation - was ever itself much more than an excuse to avoid broader steps to deal with greenhouse gas emissions. (Indeed, I'm sure the time put into promoting it can be described as another elegant excuse for inaction.) But the oil industry has just discarded the Cons' last remaining fig leaf - and that leaves the Cons instead trying to bury the emissions data which exposes their entire climate-change policy as a fraud.

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