Benefit to Canada and Partners
The energy sector is a dominant force in the Canadian economy, contributing more than $84 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) and providing direct employment to more than 264,000 people, not including an additional 92,000 people employed in downstream trade and distribution (Natural Resources 2013). The energy sector also has wide-ranging environmental impacts, which are often poorly quantified and difficult to regulate. Nevertheless, global consumption of fossil fuels continues to rise, outpacing the increase in renewable energy consumption on an absolute unit of energy basis (BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015). This has critical implications for global climate and health. Any immediate actions to improve air quality and mitigate climate change impacts must begin with engineering and regulatory solutions for the energy sector. As the world, and Canada in particular, shifts to exploiting unconventional sources of fossil fuels, the need to enable cleaner extraction and processing technologies while developing the necessary science basis to support effective regulatory actions is even more urgent.
The historic March 2016 meeting of first ministers in Canada confirmed this urgency, with all provinces committing for the first time to transition toward “carbon pricing mechanisms” and to work “toward the establishment of a pan-Canadian offset protocols framework and verified carbon credits that can be traded internationally” [Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat, 2016). Critically, however, carbon trading for significant sources such as flares is not possible without the ability to accurately quantify emissions, especially the enhanced climate forcing impacts associated with emitted methane and BC. This issue has added importance in Canada, since global flaring is the dominant source of BC deposition on snow and ice in the North, contributing directly to accelerated warming relative to the rest of the planet, and leading to a range of acute social impacts to First Nations communities. At the same time, a lack of quantitative understanding, predictive models, and viable measurement methods in many cases precludes engineering and business case decisions required by companies prior to implementing mitigation measures. The imposition of strong regulatory measures without rigorous scientific backing and associated cost-benefit analyses has not proved possible in Canada, the U.S., or globally.
This network will directly address these critical issues. The overall organization of FlareNet and the scope of its five core research themes will enable significant progress in NSERC’s target areas of Natural Resources and Energy and Reducing Environmental Impacts of Unconventional Resource Extraction through an ambitious, large-scale collaboration on a national scale. Policy decision-makers and regulators will be empowered with essential knowledge and models required for effective, science-based regulations. Industry will benefit significantly from quantitative guidance in operating procedures to drive improved environmental performance, representing new expertise in the hands of Canadian operators that can be applied around the globe. Environmental scientists, combustion scientists, and climate modellers will gain invaluable new data on climate forcing and emissions from a globally important source. Engineers and technology developers will finally acquire the detailed information necessary to develop new and practical mitigation solutions. Ultimately, society as a whole will benefit from access to cleaner fossil fuels, where the low-carbon potential of unconventional gas resources is fully achieved.