MPs grill Canadian oil and gas executives over profits and emissions

Faced with tough questions about their record profits and climate track record, Canadian oil and gas executives argued Thursday there’s no need for a cap on emissions and that regulations have made it difficult to do business.

Leaders from Suncor, Imperial Oil, Cenovus Energy, Shell Canada and Enbridge were called by the NDP to appear before the standing committee on environment and sustainable development. All five appeared by videoconference.

“The world will not consume one less barrel of oil simply because Canada chooses not to provide it. That barrel will come from somewhere else,” Suncor CEO Rich Kruger said in his opening statement.

“Canadian companies are among the world’s most committed and proactive in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

When pressed about the continued high rate of emissions per barrel of oil in Canada, Kruger said that in the case of his company, emissions per barrel have been “essentially flat” over the last five years.

In a later exchange, Kruger said the federal government’s promised emissions cap is “unnecessary regulation” and would effectively serve as “a cap on production.”

He said he supports a price on carbon because it will “drive the innovation, the economic incentives, on all of our parts to continue to improve our business.”

Brad Corson, CEO of Imperial Oil, also said an emissions cap is unnecessary. 

“There’s plenty of other vehicles and requirements in place,” Corson said. “I’ve worked all over the world and Canada has one of the most stringent regulations of the places that I worked in.”

people outside in costumes
A small protest was held ahead of the oil and gas executives’ testimony Thursday in Ottawa. (David Thurton/CBC)

NDP presses oil execs on profits

One of the most heated moments came during an exchange between Kruger and Laurel Collins, the NDP environment critic.

Collins put a question to Kruger she said many Canadians have told her they want answered, given the sector’s contribution to the climate crisis and its massive profits: “How do you sleep at night?”

“I appreciate your desire to create headlines, point fingers and attempt to villainize the industry,” Kruger replied. “But what I would say, when you do that, you’re actually attacking hundreds of thousands of Canadians who work hard to provide energy to this country.”

Collins pressed him again, saying the question wasn’t rhetorical. He said his answer remained the same and “other than my sleeping patterns, I don’t know how to answer that question.”

WATCH | Suncor CEO responds to NDP MP asking, ‘How do you sleep at night?’:

Suncor CEO responds to NDP MP asking ‘How do you sleep at night?’

Suncor Energy CEO Rich Kruger answers a question from NDP BC MP Laurel Collins at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development

In 2022, oil and gas extraction companies made $270 billion in total revenue and $63 billion in profits in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. (Last year’s data has not been released).

Given their high earnings at a time when many Canadians struggle to make ends meet, major oil and gas companies should be subject to an excess profits tax as banks were in the past, Collins said at a news conference earlier on Thursday.

The revenue could be used to invest in “climate solutions and to make life more affordable to Canadians,” she said.

Jon McKenzie, CEO of Cenovus, stressed the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry and said recent record profits followed some lean years.

“A strong oil and gas sector is good for Canadians,” he told the committee.

Conservatives, like Alberta MP Damien Kurek, defended a sector he said underpins the national economy and employs more than 400,000 Canadians.

“It boggles my mind how Liberals, NDP and the Bloc can sleep at night when they want to put my constituents out of work,” Kurek said. 

Promises but no clear plan, critics say

Oil and gas production remains the largest source of climate pollution in Canada, accounting for more than 30 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Since 2005, emissions from that sector have increased 11 per cent — the largest increase recorded by any economic sector in the country — according to the Calgary-based Pembina Institute.

By comparison, emissions from other industrial sectors, such as electricity production, fell over the same period.

“Today’s testimony is a reminder that additional regulation is urgently needed if Canada’s oil and gas sector is going to meaningfully reduce its emissions,” MC Bouchard, oil and gas program director at Pembina, said in a statement.

“Repeatedly promising to reduce emissions and actually reducing emissions are not the same thing.”

WATCH | Liberal MP puts questions to Kruger: 

Liberal MP questions Suncor CEO on oil and gas emissions

Suncor CEO Rich Kruger responds to questions about what’s been done to reduce emissions from Canada’s oil and gas sector. Leaders from Imperial OIl, Cenovus, Enbridge and Shell also appeared before the standing environment committee.

Salomé Sané, a climate campaigner for Greenpeace Canada, said in an email that the executives “evaded every question about their responsibility in fuelling the climate crisis, and the costs of climate inaction, while refusing to commit to any specific investments in reducing emissions or renewable energy.”

The testimony came a day after United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutteres accused fossil fuel companies of delaying “climate action — with lobbying, legal threats and massive ad campaigns.” He called on countries and companies to stop running fossil fuel advertisements.

Gutteres pointed to new scientific research that found greenhouse gas emissions need to decrease by nine per cent per year until 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

To do so, Guterres said, world leaders and corporations must take “urgent action” to slash greenhouse gas emissions, invest more in renewable energy and “clamp down” on the fossil fuel industry.

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