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In 2009, G20 leaders pledged to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies. But the information presented in the 2015 OIC (Oil Change International) report, Empty Promises: G20 susidies to oil, gas and coal production, is evidence of the continuing gap between promises and reality. I’m pleased to feature Carol Linnitt’s post (with permission) first published in DeSmog Canada in November 2015.

Where Are Canadian Fossil Fuel Subsidies Coming From and Going To?

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Image: authors of Empty Promises: G20 susidies to oil, gas and coal production report.

Canada’s fossil fuel industries are the recipients of $2.7 billion US ($3.6 billion CDN)  in handouts each year, despite a promise from all G20 nations, including Canada, to eliminate subsidies in 2009.

About $1.6 billion US of those subsidies came from the federal government with the rest distributed by the provinces, according to a new report from Oil Change International.

The report finds G20 countries spend about $452 billion US each year to prop up their oil, gas and coal industries.

The Liberals promised to “fulfill Canada’s G20 commitment to phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry,” in their election platform. The party singled out the Canadian Exploration Expenses tax deduction as too generous to industry, saying the tax break should only kick in if companies are completely unsuccessful in their resource exploration. “The saving will be redirected to investments in new and clean technologies,” the party platform says.

But the Canadian Exploration Expenses tax deduction isn’t the only place where companies can take advantage of a generous subsidy system. So were else is the money coming from and going to?

Direct Handouts to Fossil Fuel Industry

The Canadian government has heavily invested in fossil fuel projects, research and development in recent years.

Perhaps most notably, the government poured millions of dollars into the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Between 2011 and 2014, $226 million US was handed over to SaskPower, Saskatchewan’s main energy provider to develop CCS infrastructure at the Boundary Dam coal power plant. SaskPower, owned by the province, invested an additional $1.2 million US into the project over four years.

An additional $18 million US was paid into CCS research at the Saskatchewan Petroleum Technology Research Centre in a joint project funded by Canada, Saskatchewan, the University of Regina and the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Two CCS projects in Alberta received $156 million US from the federal government and an annual supplement of roughly $103 million US from the province for several years.

The development of CCS has been extremely controversial because it is an expensive, risky and unproved technology that, while ostensibly removing carbon from the atmosphere, is also used to facilitate enhanced oil and gas extraction, thereby releasing more carbon into the atmosphere.

B.C. also invested $19 million US directly in oil and gas extraction activities under the banner of  ‘transportation investment’ objectives.

Public Finance of Fossil Fuel Activities

The OCI report found Export Development Canada, the country’s main public finance institution, mostly funds projects that involve oil and gas production. The institution, however, doesn’t keep precise records on how much money is provided per transaction (records only provide a range, i.e. $250-$500 million US).

But OCI estimates that the institution provides an average of $2.5 billion US per year to fossil fuel production for companies like TransCanada, Enbridge, Encana, Devon Energy and Chevron.

Fossil Fuel Industry Tax Breaks

One of the main ways the federal and provincial government subsidizes the fossil fuel industry is through major tax breaks.

Canada has no shortage of generous tax deductibles and expenses for industry when it comes to expensive upstream development, which can include high resource exploration and infrastructure costs. Here are some highlights:

The Canadian Development Expense

Under the Canadian Development Expense, oil and gas companies can claim up to 30 per cent of their field development costs when starting up a new project.

In 2013, oil and gas companies claimed an estimated $981 million US in tax deductions for drilling or completing an oil field or sinking a new mine shaft, according to OCI.

Canadian Exploration Expense

Companies exploring for new resources can claim up to 100 per cent of their expenses for exploratory drilling or seismic testing. This cost the federal government an estimated $159 million US in 2013.

Until January 2015, all pre-production expenses for development of the oilsands were eligible under this tax break, although now operators can only make those claims under the CDE (where they can only recoup 30 per cent, rather than 100 per cent, of their expenses).

Canadian Oil and Gas Property Expense

This tax break, which allows companies to claim a 10 per cent deduction on the cost of purchasing new oil and gas wells, has amounted to $35 million US in subsidies since 2011.

This expense did bring the benefit of reclassifying oilsands property and leases, which were previously eligible for 30 per cent deductions under the Canadian Development Expense. This change is estimated to save Canada $69 million US each year by 2015/2016, according to the report.

Atlantic Investment Tax Credit

This tax credit subsidized the oil and gas industry to the tune of $136 million US between 2013 and 2014 by providing tax deductions for developing mature or non-conventional resource fields in Atlantic Canada.

This credit mechanism is currently being phased out but companies can claim past expenses until 2017.

Foreign Tax Breaks

The Foreign Resource Expense and the Foreign Exploration and Development Expense allow Canadian companies to deduct 30 per cent of their overseas exploration costs.

OCI notes a lack of disclosure for deductions claimed under these foreign operations tax brackets means no one knows exactly how much these breaks cost for 2013 or 2014.

Alberta Crown Royalty Reductions

In 2013, companies were spared from paying an estimated $631 million US in taxes and royalties under this provincial subsidy. In 2014, the estimated total was $578 million US.

B.C. Deep Drilling Credit

B.C. gave $260 million US worth of royalty relief to gas developers in 2013 and an additional $238 million US in 2014.

In its primer on Canada, Oil Change International, along with the Overseas Development Institute and International Institute for Sustainable Development, outlines how these tax breaks work in more detail.

Why Stopping Fossil Fuel Subsidies Matters

Where Are Canadian Fossil Fuel Subsidies Coming From and Going To?, boomer warrior

Global subsidies for the fossil fuel industry are four times the global subsidies for renewable energy.

Clean energy analysts say the lack of tax breaks and subsidies for clean energy is holding the sector (which is still booming, by the way) back from reaching its potential.

Many countries in the developed world have already promised a long or medium-term phase out of fossil fuels as a pathway to lowering their emissions.

“Axing $1.7 billion US in handouts to fossil fuel producers is a critical step that Canada needs to take towards tackling climate change,” said Alex Doukas, co-author of the report for Oil Change International, prior to the Paris talks of 2015.

“This is a unique opportunity for the new Canadian government to hit the ground running at the G20, live up to election promises, and push other G20 leaders to phase out subsidies as they first committed to doing six long years ago,” Doukas added.

“Continuing to fund the fossil fuel industry today is like accelerating towards a wall that we can clearly see,” Stephen Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, said.

“G20 leaders need to slow down and turn us around before we hit climate disaster.”

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  1. If only as many subsidies were given to developing green technologies like solar, wind and wave power! The Saint John tidal bore in the Bay of Fundy would be an ideal place for a sea barrage generating power! But where is the excitement over such consistent energy generation? I see only limited viewpoints on this potentially inexpensive power generation. Ah, yes, maybe ‘inexpensive’ is the problem!

    Companies that develop green technologies require quite large subsidies to develop the technology to an effective level. But once the generation of such energies are underway, there is no ‘ongoing’ profit for the companies! For most people, the purchase of solar panels or a wind turbine requires an initial investment of cash, but the wind and the sun are’free’ and no one can make a profit on a free resource. Likewise, wave power will require huge investment, but can any one company actually ‘own’ the ocean generated power?

    The next big race for profit, may come from companies who develop highly effective, super storage batteries….and sell that power for profit as and when it is needed for back up power.

    The next big revolution is coming from these’batteries’ which are already beginning to roll out….and the companies behind them are already thinking about buying their power from the excess solar or wind power generated by individual households. The implications of that mean profits and clean power for everyone.

    It is a matter of time….and as usual, most governments will be the last to come to the party! In the meantime, they continue to shuffle from one foot to the other, hedging their bets by continuing to fund the’tried and tested ‘ if defunct oil industry. Their vision is limited only to the next fiscal budget! Their allegiance (despite rhetoric that states otherwise), still lies with the big fossil fuel companies.

    The best guess for a change in oil subsidy payouts, is when the government can be sure they will not get their money back (remember that oil is heavily taxed at the gasoline pumps). Right now, their is no way for governments to recoup a subsidy to’green power generation ‘ through taxation. It would be like taxing the most basic tennents of life! When people switch to’green’ alternatives and oil tax revenues drop to a level that makes subsidisation expensive folly, we will see governments change their support to get in on any potential ‘profit’ taking and not before.

    • Colette – it just blows my mind how society continues to subsidize the very industry that is at the source of emissions which we’ve agreed to cut back on at the Paris Agreement. It’s so freakin frustrating. I’m doing several pieces not on subsidies and the more I look into it the more I want to pull my hair out. That feels better.

      I couldn’t say it any better than this excerpt from an article I’m referring to for my next piece:

      “While oil and gas companies are getting windfall tax breaks, the Canadian government is proposing to put a tax on the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the production of oil and gas.

      As IISD analyst Amin Asadollahi describes it, “[i]magine the Canadian government taxed cigarettes with one hand, while handing out tax breaks to tobacco companies with the other.”

      Fossil fuel subsidies also undercut tax breaks and financial incentives for renewable energies like wind, solar and geothermal.

      Clean energy analysts say the overwhelming emphasis on support for fossil fuel development has prevented the renewable energy industry from reaching its full potential. The renewable energy industry, despite the lack of help, is still booming and outpacing even the most optimistic predictions for its growth.”

      It says it all. We are idiots to support on the ongoing subsidies for fossil fuels – my words.

      • You are right Rolly! Your cigarette and tobacco industry analogy is a good one. Government could outright ban the sale of such unhealthy products, but instead they prefer to tax (heavily) and penalise the victims (us) who have been made addicts of the products that are the worst for our health and that of the planet.

        The Government may argue that they tax poor choices for the good of better choices in our social infrastructure, but history has not written a happy picture of that. Whether it has been the British Conservatives controlling the Chinese by addicting them to drugs during the Opium wars, or it is the Chinese Communist government turning all its people (peasants and elitists alike), onto the land as labouring slaves, it has always been about taking advantage of the people and their often meagre resources. Governments have not historically shown themselves to be taking the moral high ground.

  2. As a footnote to my comment above, Spain has tried to tax ‘green’ energy through a huge tax to anyone who wishes to install solar panels on their house. Generated power station electricity is expensive in Spain, and a sunny, hot dessert (like Southern Spain) is an absolute perfect location for inexpensive solar power generation. Yet, there are very few solar panels to be seen anywhere and certainly none on the roofs of homes! The governmental tax is so high as to make it unaffordable to the average person.

    It is criminal to see that Government can act like a’Mafia,’ holding individuals to ransom over the purchase of basic needs. It rings warning bells that our governments do not have their citizens best interests in mind when they do business!

  3. Sorry, Dessert, should be Desert! Look up the ‘ sun tax ‘ in Spain….not only is the initial purchase of solar panels taxed, the government tax the actual household use of solar power that is self-generated. I cannot think of any worse situation for the development of a green technology gone completely wrong. Inhabitants of Spain would rather buy the cheaper dirty technology than utilise their most abundant clean resource…the sun!


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