Canada's Alberta should strengthen environmental rules: leader

CALGARY (Reuters) - The Canadian oil-producing province of Alberta wants to strengthen its environmental regulations and bend the curve on its rapidly-rising greenhouse gas emissions, Premier Rachel Notley said in a radio interview broadcast on Tuesday.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley tries on her new Smithbilt cowboy hat after being white hatted at her premier's pancake breakfast during the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, July 6, 2015. REUTERS/Todd Korol

Notley said her government is proceeding with promises to review royalty rates paid by the oil and gas industry and improve its climate change policies. Her left-leaning New Democrats were elected in May, ending 44 years of Conservative rule in the western Canadian province.

Alberta’s oil sands, vast deposits of tar-like bitumen, are the world’s third-largest crude reserves, but also carry some of the highest costs globally because of the scale of projects and energy-intensive production methods.

The federal environment department has estimated that the oil sands industry is Canada’s fastest growing source of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, making it difficult for the country to meet Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s international climate change commitments.

Notley told CBC radio that Alberta’s industry was suffering globally in part because people did not believe it was adequately protecting the environment. Her government, which raised the cost of greenhouse gas emissions for large industrial plants in June, is now waiting for an expert panel to advise it on a comprehensive climate change strategy.

She said the end result would likely be somewhere between the demands of industry and environmentalists.

“Are we going to immediately get to the same standards that everyone else is at? Probably not,” she told the CBC. “But what we need to do is put together a credible, science-based plan that will sustain the review of experts, that bends the curve and sets Alberta on the right path.”

She said her government recognized it should not “pile on” with changes when oil and gas companies are struggling due to the plunge in global crude prices that have prompted thousands of layoffs.

But she said the NDP was less dependent on the industry for political support than the Conservatives were, and her government intended to ensure that Albertans are getting their fair share of resources at the end of a royalty payments review, expected to conclude in December.

Notley’s government has also pledged to phase out coal-fired electricity generation, and has said it would introduce new plans to promote energy efficiency and more renewable energy.

Reporting By Mike De Souza; Editing by David Gregorio