How Enbridge sees its low carbon future

Enbridge low carbon

Enbridge has the tricky job of being an oil company that supports a transition to low carbon energy.

The Calgary-based company has sold renewable and natural gas assets over the past year in line with a debt reduction plan. For a company that supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the sales could be seen as a step backward.

But Roxanna Benoit, vice-president of public and government affairs, denied Enbridge is moving away from a commitment to fewer emissions in an interview with Corporate Knights.

“We are moving forward with renewable energy because it is an important part of the energy mix and we need all forms of energy in that mix,” Benoit said.

Enbridge’s takeover of Spectra Energy, a major U.S. natural gas distributor, for C$37 billion in 2017 and the fact the company retained ownership and development control in its recent sale of renewable facilities are reasons to believe in Enbridge’s low carbon bona fides, Benoit said.

In the renewables deal announced in May, which saw the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board take a 49 percent stake in 14 North American wind and solar assets and a 49 percent stake in two German offshore wind facilities owned by Enbridge, the two sides also set up a 50-50 joint venture to buy new wind projects in Germany, Benoit said.

Those deals, as well as a sale of natural gas assets in northwestern Canada to Brookfield Infrastructure announced July 4, are in line with a three year strategy launched in 2017 that has the company focused on oil pipelines, natural gas pipelines and natural gas utilities, she said.

Finding one tool to measure Enbridge’s transition in or out of emission-heavy energy isn’t easy.

But comparing the Brookfield sale to the Spectra mega-deal, which put Enbridge at the centre of shale gas distribution in the U.S. northeast, can be interpreted as a sign the company is taking natural gas seriously, said Lucas Schoeppner, oil and gas analyst with corporate governance research firm Sustainalytics.

“As far as reducing carbon risk or effecting an energy transition, (the Brookfield sale) is probably a step backward,” Schoeppner said. “But in the big picture, that it is still dwarfed to some degree by the big push into shale gas in the U.S. northeast.”

But natural gas isn’t always a panacea in a push toward cleaner fuels, said Andrew Grant, senior analyst in oil and gas for the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

High cost gas could still be a bad investment in a world trying to lower emissions because there are more project options than needed, Grant wrote in an email to Corporate Knights.

The assets in the Brookfield deal are natural gas gathering and processing facilities, so determining how well they fit in a low carbon future would depend on the economics of the feed gas, he wrote.

“(Enbridge) has been under pressure to reduce debt and has said it is focusing on its core pipeline business – I would be inclined to take that at face value,” Grant added.

Enbridge itself doesn’t have one single measure or metric to determine how greenhouse gas emissions should weigh on big decisions decisions like those during the past year, Enbridge spokesperson Glen Whelan wrote in an email.

The best way to describe it would be as a “meta metric” of many different measures put together, which would provide managers with a picture of how Enbridge is doing on goals like energy efficiency, renewables and electrification, cleaner fuels, and cleaner oil and gas production, Whelan wrote.

“For example, the Spectra acquisition reduced the carbon intensity of the overall energy mix we deliver,” he wrote.

The projections for global energy use that Enbridge shares online describe a world that relies on oil for 75 percent of its energy in 2030, despite big strides by renewables and natural gas. Oil, by that metric, remain a big part of the picture.

Enbridge has several key milestones for measuring emissions on the way. A climate change report is due this summer and a summary of the company’s sustainability goals is expected to be out sometime this year.

The company is also putting the finishing touches on an investment review process that will examine the impact of carbon pricing policies, Whelan wrote in his email.

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