Fact Checking Christy Clark’s LNG Claims

Christy Clark LNG

For years, the B.C. government has touted the benefits of developing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry — and while some of those benefits may be legit, one of them almost certainly isn’t.

That’s the claim that exporting natural gas from B.C. will somehow result in emissions reductions in China.

Let’s back up for a second.

Exporting LNG involves first fracking for gas in B.C.’s northeast, a process which causes earthquakes, uses epic amounts of fresh water and leaks the potent greenhouse gas methane into the atmosphere at a rate 2.5 times higher than what the B.C. government has been admitting.

Once the gas is extracted from the ground, it will be sent via pipeline to terminals on the coast, where it will be cooled to -161 C in an energy intensive process. If those plants used electricity to run their compression stations, just one large LNG plant would use roughly equivalent to all of the power from the Site C dam. But these plants won’t be using electricity for the most part — they’ll be burning gas to run compressors to cool gas into a liquid ready for transport to foreign markets.

In the ultimate hypocrisy, B.C. isn’t allowed to burn that gas at home to create electricity because it’s too dirty. Bit of a head scratcher, right? After the gas has been liquefied, it will be loaded on tankers and theoretically sent to Asian markets.

Despite all that, Clark has had the audacity to claim both in the Liberal platform and in The Globe and Mail that Pacific NorthWest LNG could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 60 megatonnes. Yes, you read that correctly. Clark argues that creating a huge fossil fuel export industry in B.C. will somehow reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Thankfully, the policy experts over at the Pembina Institute are very skilled with their calculators and have thoroughly debunked that claim.

Clark’s claim is based on the assumption that LNG would only displace coal, which is a fallacy. As Pembina has pointed out before, LNG from B.C. would not only compete with carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as coal, but also with low-carbon sources of energy, including nuclear, hydro, solar and wind.

In fact, Pembina argues the most likely scenario is that

Take Pacific NorthWest LNG. The Petronas-backed terminal plans to export 20.5 Mt of LNG per year via its Lelu Island facility (which just so happens to be in critical salmon habitat).

Pembina’s Josha MacNab writes:

The project would result in annual carbon pollution totalling around 9 Mt (carbon dioxide equivalent, or CO2e) from its export terminal and associated upstream operations in B.C. Tanker transport and burning of the exported LNG for electricity generation would emit an additional 61 Mt (assuming a 1 per cent methane leakage rate during shipping and downstream operations in export markets). As such, the total emissions associated with PNW LNG are estimated at about 70 Mt per year.”

Now, even if all of that LNG did displace China’s current average energy mix (coal accounts for 73 per cent of Chinese electricity), LNG exports from Pacific NorthWest LNG would reduce global emissions by just 12 Mt (about a sixth of what Clark claimed).

However, it’s likely to be much worse than that.

Looking at the overall energy mix does not give an accurate picture of what is happening in China’s energy system,” MacNab writes.  “Last year, while total electricity generation in China increased, coal-fired generation decreased by three per cent. Meanwhile, zero-emitting generation rose by 9 per cent, driven by large increases in solar and wind power. (Grid-connected wind capacity grew by 34 per cent, while grid-connected solar capacity rose by 74 per cent.) As such, all incremental power was provided by low- and zero-emitting sources of energy. This trend is expected to continue.”

As a new source of power, LNG from B.C. would most likely compete with other new sources of power.

This is especially true in China, where electricity demand is still growing, and the legacy coal fleet is still relatively young. China is unlikely to shut down coal plants that are already built and have operating life remaining,” MacNab writes.

Given recent energy developments in China, the claim that B.C. LNG will only displace coal is unfounded. Rather, the opposite scenario — that LNG from B.C. will displace low- and zero-emitting power sources — is more likely.”

If LNG does displace renewables, Pacific NorthWest LNG could increase global carbon pollution by 70 MT per year (more than all of B.C.’s current total emissions), Pembina found.

So there you have it: Clark's claims about LNG reducing global greenhouse gas emissions are flat-out false.

Photo: Province of British Columbia via Flickr