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Competition Bureau to investigate ‘clean’ and ‘affordable’ ad claims for natural gas

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The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment complained to the Competition Bureau that the extraction and production of natural gas pollutes the air and contaminates water sources and that gas appliances cause indoor air pollution and pose a serious health risk for children's respiratory health. Photo credit: Jason, stock.adobe.com

Canada’s Competition Bureau has opened an investigation into whether the Canadian Gas Association has falsely claimed natural gas as “clean and affordable.”

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and it has up to 80 times the climate-warming potential of carbon dioxide, with comparable overall greenhouse gas emissions to coal, argues a group of medical professionals who launched the complaint with the Competition Bureau.

“The extraction and production of gas also pollutes the air and contaminates water sources, while closer to home, gas appliances cause indoor air pollution and pose a serious health risk for children’s respiratory health,” the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), a non-profit organization, announced in a statement.

While not the entire focus of the investigation, the Competition Bureau will examine the association’s recent representations in respect to natural gas made through their “Fuelling Canada” advertising campaign. The campaign’s website states that, “Canada’s natural gas industry works 24/7 to ensure affordable, clean, and reliable energy for families and businesses.”

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If the natural gas claims are found to be misleading, the association could face a fine of up to $10 million, according to CAPE.

Member companies of the Canadian Gas Association (CGA) include Enbridge Inc., FortisBC and ATCO.

In a statement sent to the CBC, Canadian Gas Association CEO Timothy Egan said the association was aware of the inquiry and that: “The CGA will co-operate with the Competition Bureau and is confident in its position. Natural gas plays an important part in Canada’s energy mix.”

Earlier this month, Canada released an updated methane strategy with designs on reducing methane emissions, which account for 14% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Oil and gas operations account for 38% of total anthropogenic methane emissions, and it is often released through venting, fugitives (leaks or equipment failures), and stationary combustion where methane is incompletely burned in flaring.

According to the strategy, reducing global methane emissions from oil and gas is “one of the lowest-cost GHG reduction opportunities,” partly because it can be captured and sold as natural gas, where, when burned properly, it converts to CO2.

However, the strategy does point out that deeper reductions in methane emissions of at least 70% by 2030 will require going beyond these low-cost opportunities and involve more advanced technologies such as electrification, fuel switching and mitigating fugitive emissions.

Claims of greenwashing have been the focus of several recent Competition Bureau investigations, including coffee pod recyclability claims for Keurig, and an allegedly dubious net-zero emission pledge from the Royal Bank of Canada, which is also a financier of fossil fuels, a complaint argued. Such pledges were also the focus of a recent expert group earlier this month at the UN Climate Conference (COP27) in Egypt.

CAPE and the other complainants also question the claim that natural gas is affordable. They cite a 2022 report from Natural Resources Canada showing that low-carbon heat pumps are already cheaper than gas heating in most of Canada. It also flags the CGA’s own studies forecasting that the price of methane gas to customers will increase significantly due to climate policies.

A 2020 study by Yale University found that people’s impressions of natural gas were much more favourable than when it was referred to as “methane gas”, or “natural methane gas”, despite the fact that natural gas is composed primarily of methane.

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