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Pollution caused by Alberta's 'big five' oil companies costing at least $320 billion: report

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers calls the Parkland Institute study 'puzzling'

A group separator on a Suncor MacKay River site in the oil sands in Fort McMurray Alta, on Monday June 12, 2017.

JASON FRANSON / The Canadian Press

A group separator on a Suncor MacKay River site in the oil sands in Fort McMurray Alta, on Monday June 12, 2017.

Pollution caused by Alberta’s “big five” oil sands producers is costing the more than the province's entire GDP, according to a new study.

Applying a $50-per-tonne carbon cost to the proven reserves of Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, and Husky Energy, the Parkland Institute study released Wednesday calculates the annual cost at $320 billion.

Alberta's total GDP is $309 billion.

“This industry is taking more and more of Canada’s budget for carbon production overall, and providing us with less and less benefits,” said Ian Hussey, a research manager at Parkland Institute, public policy research organization based at the University of Alberta.

The costs are borne out through increased frequency of extreme weather events like floods or wildfires, and negative health effects to people.

Hussey said $50 per tonne is a “conservative price,” and higher-end estimates peg the cost closer to $2 trillion.

Hussey said the big five have not taken meaningful action to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate change goals.

Meanwhile, the oil industry is contributing 25 per cent less to the Alberta economy than it was 30 years ago. Of more than 50,000 jobs lost in Alberta since the 2014 crash, he said economists only expect about one third of those to return.

But Patrick McDonald, director of climate innovation with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said he found the Parkland Institute’s assessment “puzzling.”

“Substantial emission reductions have been achieved through industry-led technologies and investment in our sector, and those will continue to occur as governments move to meet the commitments they have made with the Paris Agreement," McDonald said.

He added that it’s important for Canada to remain competitive with countries like Nigeria and Venezuela that have loose environmental policies.

McDonald said demand for oil is projected to grow until 2040 and Canada should seize the chance to increase its market share.

The Alberta government has set its emission cap at 100 megatonnes, which allows the industry to grow almost 50 per cent between now and 2030 – a level of growth Hussey said is unacceptable.

“In order to meet our commitment under the Paris Agreement, that growth can’t happen. In fact, in order to meet our commitment under the Paris Agreement, we need to phase out the oil sands by 2050,” Hussey said.

“And we need to have a conversation about what it actually means to have a managed decline of oil production over the next few decades.”

The report calls for more transparency from the big five on their climate change goals, a halt to pipeline approvals from the federal government, and an immediate limit on fossil fuel extraction from the Alberta government that would become more stringent over time.

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