Potential for Canadian natural gas to help Europe move away from Russia: Wilkinson

‘We can’t be hostage to somebody who can blackmail us’: says Canada’s natural resources minister

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OTTAWA – Federal natural resources minister Jonathan Wilkinson said his government is interested in helping Europe replace Russian natural gas and that shipping more natural gas to Europe would not contradict Canada’s climate goals.

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Wilkinson said Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call that the continent is far too reliant on Russian energy and in recent international meetings there is widespread desire for change.

“Every one of the European ministers that spoke to me basically said we have to get off Russian oil and gas. We can’t be hostage to somebody who can blackmail us,” Wilkinson said.

Canada has no significant liquified natural gas (LNG) plants today. A massive project is under construction near Kitimat, B.C., but isn’t scheduled to ship gas until 2025 and the main customers would not be in Europe. There are no facilities on the east coast, although several have been proposed.

Wilkinson said the government wants to help European allies and will be looking at possibilities for the industry.

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“We are going to look at options around LNG and whether there’s something that Canada might be able to contribute there in a manner that is low emission and climate consistent,” he said.

The U.K. and U.S. joined Canada on Tuesday in banning Russian oil and gas, but the three countries import little from Russia currently. The International Energy Agency estimates the European Union imports 40 per cent of the gas it uses from Russia, flows that are continuing even as Russian tanks roll through Ukraine and  most other parts of the Russian economy have been sanctioned.

Earlier this week, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said turning off the taps immediately would be devastating to his country and many others in Europe, including Ukraine.

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“The painful reality is that we are still very much dependent on Russian gas and Russian oil,” he said.

“We have to ensure that they don’t generate unmanageable risks to energy supplies in Europe, European countries and beyond, including Ukraine.”

Wilkinson said sending natural gas to Europe is not inconsistent with the government’s climate goals, because European nations are generally climate leaders.

“Europe obviously has thought its way through more than anybody else. They’ve been working on the climate challenge for decades longer than the rest of the world and so in that context, those conversations are quite simple.”

Wilkinson said his European counterparts all express interest in moving toward more renewable energy, as well as hydrogen, and Canada could help bridge the gap as these countries make the transition.

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He pointed out that in addition to being a transition fuel, natural gas can be used to make hydrogen, which burns without emissions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Wednesday and said Canada supports his proposal to create a “carbon club” of countries who commit to similar climate policies and avoid carbon-related trade levies.

Trudeau said the two leaders talked about Germany’s energy needs in the short term, as well as larger climate goals.

“We also talked about ways where we can partner not just in the short and medium term on energy supplies, but also staying focused every step of the way on that transition towards renewables, towards hydrogen, towards cleaner sources of energy.”

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The Trudeau government has vetoed several energy projects and delayed others with extra reviews. Last month, the Liberal government rejected a proposed LNG facility north of Quebec City in the Saguenay region, which had previously been rejected by the Quebec government.

The Quebec government has a bill in the National Assembly that would ban any further oil and gas exploration in the province. Ewan Sauves, a spokesperson for Premier François Legault, said it signals their broader intentions.

“This is a strong signal for the future. Quebec has everything to be a world leader in the green economy sector.”

Wilkinson said in this case he believes everyone will see the potential value.

“There is a consensus that Canada needs to do what it can for our allies and I think there is also a consensus that, obviously, whatever we do needs to fit within the context of our aggressive approach to fighting climate change. I don’t think those two things are inconsistent.”

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Wilkinson said he believes Canadians will see the value in shipping natural gas to Europe in light of Russia’s security threat, as long as it is clear it is about a broader transition to net zero.

“Europe is burning natural gas right now. It comes from Russia. If it is burning natural gas that comes from the United States or Canada, it is not emitting any more CO2 into the atmosphere than it was the day before it made that switch.”

Wilkinson said the conversations that are now happening are about whether the facilities could be put in place fast enough in Canada to get natural gas to Europe before those countries transition from fossil fuels completely.

“We need to look at what would be required to get these kinds of things done and what would our timeline be and does that match with the European timeline.”

He said Canadian oil is less likely to be able to get to Europe in time, because Europe is phasing out oil more quickly than natural gas. He said they are looking at short-term measures to increase oil supply, but it won’t be much.

“We are looking at whether there’s a way for us to enhance the flow of oil through existing pipeline networks. It obviously wouldn’t be a huge supplement, but we are looking at that. It is a crisis in Europe, we are endeavouring to do everything we can.”




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