New Equitable Origin CEO On The Future Of Third-Party Validation

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Jason Switzer.

The new head of Equitable Origin is seeing heightened interest in the role played by organizations like his.

In September 2023, Jason Switzer was named chief executive officer of the non-profit organization that created the first market-based mechanism to recognize and reward responsible energy producers through independent, site-level certification to high ESG performance standards.

“I think we are at an inflection point,” Switzer told the DOB.  

“There is a real growth of demand in the marketplace for those independent yard sticks of high performance.”

In the U.S., a lot of that has been driven by targeting upstream methane emissions, he said, adding Canada has been a key player and early mover on minimizing upstream methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, and other countries are starting to join in the effort.

“In the U.S., we are seeing a real driver around providing that third-party validation of low carbon intensity natural gas … in part in order to qualify for some of the incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Switzer, who graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

In Canada, he said it is driven as much or more so by social performance, “wanting to demonstrate to your communities and other stakeholders that you are a top performer.

“And so, being at that inflection point, I think what we are going to see is a lot of growth now.”

Switzer’s work experience includes senior engineer, climate change strategy at Shell Canada in the oilsands.

While working internationally on natural resources and violent conflict, a mentor told him: “If you want to see the high watermark for responsible oil and gas, then you have to go see what Shell is doing in the oilsands because it is really groundbreaking from a global perspective.”

“It was interesting validation being from Calgary and going ‘I want to go overseas and see the world’ …. to then be told by one of the global experts on business and conflict management peace building ‘if you want to see global best practice, see what Shell is doing.’”

He has also held sustainability-related positions at Cenovus Energy Inc. and Encana Corporation, and was director of consulting at the Pembina Institute. This is where he helped start the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance, an industry association for environmental innovators.

At the time this was written, Equitable Origin (EO) has certified roughly 14 to 15 per cent of natural gas production in Canada and the U.S.

Switzer notes that large downstream buyers, like LNG shippers and blue hydrogen producers have yet to signal that they are going to demand it, but some utilities such as Energir in Quebec, and fuel cell builder Bloom Energy have made “significant purchases” of EO-certified gas.

In December 2023, PETRONAS Energy Canada Ltd. announced that its natural gas is certified by EO.

Switzer counts factors such as major producers certifying 100 per cent of their production as a market growth driver.

“A big part of what we are focused on in 2024 will be making sure that we are ready to scale,” he added. “That our systems are bomb-proof, and that we have done the homework in order to ensure that we can … provide a rigorous assurance that companies are doing what they say and that our systems are capable of ensuring that is being applied consistently across the U.S. and Canada.”

EO’s EO100 Standard sets metrics and performance target, independently evaluating environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts of projects related to energy development. Its principals include: corporate governance; transparency and ethics; human rights; social impact and community development; Indigenous people’s rights; fair labour and working conditions; and climate change, biodiversity and environment.

These same principals will be incorporated as EO expands its range of standards and certification scope, says Switzer. The organization is currently working on a new renewable energy standard.

“We have got draft [renewable energy] standards in development and are constituting an advisory committee of experts across key stakeholder groups to help us refine them,” the CEO said.

In terms of other areas being considered for certification opportunities, Switzer called carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) No. 1.

“ … You have got a lot of the same issues [as oil and gas] around large project infrastructure deployment, long-term management, the need to engage with and have community buy-in, both for pipelines as well as for long-term injection of CO2,” he added.

“I can see a real need for responsible CCUS certification.”

Canada has shown upstream methane abatement leadership from both companies and government, said Switzer.

“Of course, there are certain companies [that] have gone much further, much faster, and have actually created the path that will allow government to move,” he said.

Switzer also highlighted the country’s progress related to Indigenous project ownership.

“I think Canada, relative to many of the other countries that I am becoming familiar with, has been at the forefront of new models for economic reconciliation and of course it is very challenging,” he added.

 “I wouldn’t say Canada has solved it be any stretch, but I think there are some really exciting examples in Canada of Indigenous energy project ownership that really changed the landscape in terms of how resource development is being done.”

This is affecting how EO looked at standards and updates, Switzer said. He adds, the original standard was designed around protection of Indigenous communities’ human rights, and at that time, was not thought through in the context of Indigenous equity ownership and project leadership and how to reward and incent that through standards.

Looking ahead, Switzer said he’s excited about the potential presented by Alberta’s pursuit of beyond combustion opportunities for hydrocarbons.

He singled out Alberta investigating conversion of oilsands into carbon fibre, asphalt and other high-demand industrial products, calling this a unique opportunity.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity for Canada and a signal for how to develop alternative paths that allow for what we would call a gradual transition, in which you have economic opportunity that backfills what is a significant source of jobs and royalties to government.”

In addition to Canada and the U.S., EO has teams in Europe and Latin America. Switzer says one of his goals is to grow its Latin American certification.

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