Irving Oil announces that it will partner with TC Energy of Calgary to modernize its refinery in Saint John with the goal of “decarbonizing current assets and deploying emerging technologies to reduce global emissions.” The Saint John refinery is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the province. It pumped about 2.8 million megatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2019, almost a quarter of all emissions in New Brunswick.
An Irving Oil press release says the two companies aim to “dramatically reduce emissions through the generation and use of low-carbon power generation.”
Longer term, they say they will consider producing and selling low-emission hydrogen and capturing and sequestering carbon to “help decarbonize local industry.”
If Irving Oil’s actions match its words, it would mark a historic turning point for a company built on oil.
In response to strong policies, public opinion
Founded nearly a century ago with the opening of a single gas station, the Irving refinery in Saint John is today Canada’s largest and most important supplier of gasoline to the North is from the United States.
But stronger climate policies and public opinion are pushing it to adapt, said Colleen d’Entremont, president of the Atlantica Center for Energy.
She said that all fossil fuel companies “are very sensitive to changes in public demands, to changes in regulatory improvements … so they need to think about what kind of requirements will be required in the future, in the future. “.
Irving’s mention of hydrogen as a future product is notable due to research and development of cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells, d’Entremont said.
“It’s something we’re catching up on, and I think the transportation fuels producers are thinking about it as well, and I can’t imagine Irving Oil not being one of them.
“The announcement of August 12 did not contain any information on the start of the work or on the type of [greenhouse gas] the reductions companies are aiming for, although he says the targets “will align with carbon reduction targets.”
New Brunswick emitted 12 megatonnes of greenhouse gases in 2019. The province’s official target is 10.7 megatonnes by 2030.
The timing and cost of the initiatives will depend on feasibility studies and regulatory approval, the companies said.
Irving Oil did not acknowledge receipt of a CBC News interview request and TC Energy said no one from the company was available.
“It’s not easy to get an idea of what they really offer,” said environmental researcher Louise Comeau.
The lack of timelines and targets makes it impossible to assess the plan, said Sarah MacWhirter, spokesperson for the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about this deal and the emission reductions it will bring and when to provide meaningful feedback,” she said in an email.
Comeau said reducing emissions from the refining process itself would be one thing, but the real question is whether Irving is preparing for a market shift in combustion cars and trucks.
“It would be great to see Irving branch out into renewables,” she said.
“That would be, I think, the thing that would position them well for the future and keep jobs in the area. But if the intention is to maximize investment in fossil fuel infrastructure over the long term, I think it’s risky. ”
Companies have already partnered
TC Energy has already partnered with Irving. The company built a cogeneration plant at the Irving Oil refinery in 2005 that uses gas by-products to generate electricity. The companies say the refinery’s emissions would have been higher without the plant.
TC, then known as TransCanada, was also Irving’s partner in the Energy East pipeline project, which would have shipped Alberta crude to Saint John for export to world markets. A small portion of the oil would have been processed at the refinery.
TC canceled the project in 2017, blaming new emission criteria adopted by federal regulators.
In 2019, Andy Carson, director of growth and strategy for Irving Oil, told a Senate committee that there was “a role for us to play” in reducing emissions and fighting climate change. .
But the company’s chief financial officer, Jeff Matthews, said at the same hearing that too high a carbon tax would put Irving at a disadvantage compared to refineries in countries with weaker climate change policies.
“We wouldn’t want to find ourselves in a position where we have forced our industry out of business,” he said.
Later in the year, the Reuters news agency reported that Irving Oil had quietly abandoned its goal of reducing carbon emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.
The Aug. 12 announcement follows a signal from the federal government earlier this summer that it will demand New Brunswick to toughen its carbon pricing system for large industry.
The provincial system requires industrial plants to pay if they fail to reduce emissions intensity – for Irving, the amount it emits per barrel of oil it refines – by 1%, a threshold that will rise to 10 % in 2030.
The federal requirement is already 20% stricter and Federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has said all provinces will need to comply from 2023 to help Canada achieve net emissions zero by 2050.