A December 2012 Statistics Canada (StatCan) survey shows that Canadian industries are doling out billions to meet environmental regulations, but the nation’s petroleum industry says it doesn’t even begin to show how some sectors are working behind the scenes to meet the high environmental standards Canadians expect.
The biennial survey, “Environmental Protection Expenditures in the Business Sector”, details a prosperous cleantech and renewable energies sector, as well as how more than 3,500 Canadian companies spent $9.5 billion to reduce the environmental impact of their business for a year-long period that began in April 2010.
“Canadians understand why we need oil and gas. And they say ‘you have our permission to do this work as long as you keep improving the processes,’” Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) Spokesperson Travis Davies told EcoLog News.
Oil and gas extraction companies topped industry spending in the StatCan survey with $4 billion in environmental expenditures, nearly half of which is directed to pollution prevention. They also had the highest total for capital investment in environmental protection, spending $2 billion in 2010, up 23 per cent from 2008.
What the survey does not account for, according to Davies, are the billions spent on research and development in the lab and the field — projects like Suncor Energy’s efforts to reduce bitumen in tailings ponds or Syncrude Canada’s research into wetland reclamation.
Alberta alone is home to many research and development facilities, such as the Canadian Environmental Technology Advancement Corporation, the Edmonton Waste Management Centre of Excellence, Alberta Innovates, the National Institute for Nanotechnology, and the Oil Sands Tailings Research Facility.
Alberta topped the StatCan charts with $2 billion in provincial spending on environmental protection, primarily due to the oil and gas extraction industry. Its tab was followed by British Columbia at $496 million.
“Yes, regulations mean a high standard. But there’s also social license,” Davies says. “Canadians expect us to continually improve, and we need to roll out the new technologies.”
The $9.5 billion spent across Canadian industries represent a nine per cent increase over the last StatCan survey in 2008. Capital expenses accounted for $4.2 billion, up 10 per cent from 2008, while operating expenses accounted for $5.3 billion, up eight per cent.
Expenditures from the petroleum industry are followed by the electric power generation, transmission and distribution industry at $1.2 billion.
The majority of companies’ environmental protection dollars were earmarked for the operation and maintenance of equipment that reduces pollutants. The survey shows that 46 per cent of total expenditures were used to protect air, 41 per cent to protect water.
The big bucks being spent on pollutant control is music to the ears of the booming cleantech sector as more and more companies seek out their services. In December 2012 alone, two of North America’s largest carbon reduction firms merged to form ERA Carbon Offsets Ltd. in Vancouver.
For groups like the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA), the cleantech future appears bright, and in December 2012 it surveyed its membership to gauge success. The survey found that 73 per cent of polled ONEIA companies had hired full-time staff in the past 12 months and 93 per cent said they are likely to hire more staff in 2013.
“This is good news for the Ontario economy and for the environment and cleantech sector,” said ONEIA Executive Director Alex Gill in a December 2012 announcement on its website. “We know the Canadian and world market in this area is booming so it is good to see that Ontario companies are growing and hiring in response.”
ONEIA firms work in a variety of fields, including water and wastewater technology, environmental engineering, brownfields redevelopment and alternative energy.
But cleantech isn’t always high-tech. For some businesses in the StatCan survey, it can mean something as commonplace as composting or recycling. Fifty-eight per cent of businesses reported that they used at least one pollution prevention method. The top three methods were best operating practices or pollution prevention training; recirculation, on-site recycling, reuse or recovery of materials; and prevention of leaks and spills.
According to StatCan, Ontario has more than 3,000 companies in cleantech that employ approximately 65,000 people and generate more than $8 billion each year in annual revenues, including $1 billion in exports.
The StatCan survey also asked companies for the first time to report their capital investments in renewable energy technologies. Businesses reported that these investments amounted to $455 million. Biomass energy technologies topped the list and accounted for more than three-quarters of the total.
According to Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA) President W. Scott Thurlow, Canadian biofuels requirements have reduced annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to four megatonnes — the equivalent of taking approximately 1 million vehicles off the road.
“Clean burning, renewable biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are proven to reduce our environmental impact,” Thurlow told EcoLog News. “In addition, support for biofuels production has an unparalleled economic upside, creating jobs and generating higher incomes across the country.”
The CRFA cited the example of a new biodiesel production plant being built by Archer Daniels Midland in Lloydminster, Alberta.
“Continued investment in renewable fuels technologies and technologies — both in the private and public sector — ensures Canada’s economic, energy and environmental wellbeing well into the future. It is also key in securing our place as a world leader in clean energy.”
Also for the first time, the StatCan survey asked companies if they had conducted a greenhouse gas inventory. Ten per cent of businesses surveyed reported that they had.
The StatCan study can be found here.
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W. Scott Thurlow [Photo via Greenfuels.org]
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