Last year, Canada’s projections showed that the country was going to fall short of its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target, unless it took additional measures.
This week, the country faced more unfortunate news when a study found that methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are almost twice as high as had been previously reported.
The study, published on Tuesday, was conducted by federal government scientists from Environment Canada who measured methane in the atmosphere at four spots in Alberta and Saskatchewan from 2010 to 2017.
The scientists found an average of 3 megatonnes of methane in the atmosphere each year, an amount nearly double the previous government reported estimate of 1.6 megatonnes.
The difference is even more dramatic when taking into consideration the fact that methane is about 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth.
According to the study, the additional methane identified in the atmosphere equates to an extra 35 megatonnes of carbon dioxide pollution each year. That’s almost 5% of the 729 megatonnes of emissions Canada reported this year, according to the Toronto Star.
“It’s not insignificant, that’s for sure,” Doug Worthy, one of the study’s authors and head of the atmospheric observational program at Environment and Climate Change Canada, told the Star.
Although the study doesn’t identify where the unreported emissions are coming from, Worthy said methane sources around oil storage tanks could be a potential contributor, as their emissions are known to be underestimated and could be significant.
Identifying these unreported sources and getting methane under control will be key for the Canadian government as it works towards achieving its emissions targets.
A few days prior to the study’s release, the federal government faced criticism from environmental groups for deciding not to apply methane regulations on Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The government cited that the provincial rules were just as strict as the federal regulations, but environmental groups pointed out that neither will help the country meet its goal to slash methane emissions to at least 40% below 2012 levels by 2025.
“The federal and provincial regulations are equivalent, but they’re both way too weak,” Dale Marshall, the national climate program manager at Environmental Defence, told the Canadian Press.
Marshall said this new study shows that the government needs to “go back to the drawing table and strengthen the regulations.”
The United Nations urges countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning to renewable energy. While 61% of the electricity in Canada is generated from hydro sources, provinces including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and Nunavut continue to generate the majority of their electricity from fossil fuels.