The B.C. provincial government claims that the province stands to make billions through the export of liquefied gas natural gas (LNG), but there remain big questions and debate about an expanded B.C. LNG sector and the environmental issues that come with it.
Overview of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)
In the last decade there has been a boom in natural gas extraction and export in North America, mainly in the United States where new processes have allowed for access to natural gas reserves that were previously inaccessible. The most common of these new extraction processes is called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The fracking process involves pumping large amounts of mud, water and chemicals into deep natural gas deposits, creating enough pressure to crack open rock formations and release the gas.
These new gas discoveries have created an appetite for exports. To turn natural gas into a liquid for export, it must be cooled to 163 degrees below zero. Doing so requires running massive compression units 24/7. Each of the large LNG plants proposed for B.C.’s coast would need the equivalent of an entire Site C dam (1,100 megawatts of capacity) to power it by electricity. However, the reality is many of these plants will run their compressor units on natural gas, creating greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG plant in B.C.'s northwest could become the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada if it is built.
LNG in British Columbia
In the run-up to the 2013 provincial election, B.C. Premier Christy Clark predicted an economic boom in the billions of dollars with the expansion of natural gas extraction and new large-scale LNG export facilities in B.C. Clark stated that an expanded LNG sector, mainly in the Peace River region in the province's Northeast, would pay off the provincial debt and produce more than 100,000 new jobs.
However, since Clark's claims in 2013 there has been a major glut in the global natural gas market, mostly due to aggressive expansion in the United States and a slowdown in demand in Asian markets. While at least 19 export LNG projects have been proposed for B.C., by spring 2016 none had yet started construction.
LNG, Fugitive Emissions and Climate Change
As the world deals with the realities of climate change, the natural gas industry has promoted itself as a less carbon-intensive form of energy than coal. While it is true that natural gas emit less carbon when it is burned, there remain major concerns about the amount of so-called “fugitive emissions” that are lost into the atmosphere during the extraction and transport of natural gas.
Natural gas is primarily methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that is not easy to contain once it is brought to the surface and transported for processings. A 2013 report by DeSmog Canada contributor Stephen Leahy found that methane emissions from British Columbia's natural gas industry are likely at least seven times greater than official numbers, putting in jeopardy the province's entire commitment to greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Hydraulic Fracturing, Drinking Water Contamination and Earthquakes
The process of fracking has also been very controversial, especially in the United States where there has been a fracking boom in the past 15 years. A Stanford study on fracking has found the practice contaminates ground water. There are documented cases in both the U.S. and Canada of residents near hydraulic fracking sites being able to light their tap water on fire due to the high methane content.
There have also been documented cases of earthquakes being caused by the fracking process, which disrupts geological formations deep beneath the Earth's surface. Here in Canada, a study published in March 2016 confirmed the link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes. The researchers found, “39 hydraulic fracturing wells (0.3% of the total of fracking wells studied), and 17 wastewater disposal wells (1% of the disposal wells studied) that could be linked to earthquakes of magnitude 3 or larger.”
Image credit: Province of BC on Flickr
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on BC LNG
This article was originally published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
The provincial government has ordered Progress Energy to drain virtually all of the water trapped behind two massive dams the company built in violation of key provincial regulations.
The company was told on October 31 to drain all but 10 per cent of the water stored behind its Town and Lily dams near the Alaska Highway north of Fort St. John by Chris Parks, assistant director of compliance and enforcement with B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).
The order comes after Progress Energy filed an extraordinary application this summer with the EAO asking the provincial environmental regulator to retroactively “exempt” the two dams from required environmental assessments. Both dams are higher than five-storey buildings.
A full public inquiry, with powers to call witnesses and gather research, is needed to investigate natural gas fracking operations in B.C., says a coalition of 17 community, First Nations and environmental organizations.
The group, which includes the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, David Suzuki Foundation, Public Health Association of B.C. and West Coast Environmental Law, is appealing to the NDP government to call a public inquiry — instead of the scientific review promised during the election campaign — because of mounting evidence of problems caused by fracking.
“We believe that the NDP’s campaign promise to appoint a scientific panel to review fracking won’t be enough to fully address the true risks of deploying this brute force technology throughout northeast B.C.,” said Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, one of the organizations asking for an inquiry.
This article originally appeared on The Tyee.
At least seven of 51 large dams built by the province’s shale gas industry in northeastern B.C. were not safe and required “enforcement orders” to comply with the law.
Almost six months after an independent report raised serious questions about the legality and safety of earth dams built to hold water for the fracking industry, the province’s energy regulator now reports it is taking action.
The Oil and Gas Commission recently issued a bulletin saying it had inspected 51 dams northwest of Fort St. John last May and found “some issues” at seven different structures.
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver was never a big fan of LNG, he says, because he never thought the BC Liberal plan for a multi-billion domestic natural gas export industry was even possible. But that was the past: when it comes to the future of clean energy in British Columbia, what is possible?
In the following interview with journalist Christopher Pollon, the climate scientist turned politician expounds on LNG, Site C, and the imminent arrival of energy alternatives like geothermal, “pumped storage” hydro and more.
Weaver conducted this interview via speakerphone as he drove a broken microwave oven to a Victoria-area depot for recycling. Being Green, it seems, is a full-time gig.
For years, Nexen's Aurora project envisioned transforming Digby island near Prince Rupert into a sprawling $20 billion LNG plant shipping 24 million tonnes of liquified B.C. natural gas to Asia.
On September 14, Aurora officially backed out, reinforcing the words written in this year’s NDP election platform. “[Ex-premier Christy Clark] bet everything on natural gas prices and left the rest of B.C.’s economy without support,” it reads.
“Resource communities and families have paid the price. That’s got to change.”
But change to what? With the rise of B.C.’s new NDP government, forged with the support of the B.C. Greens under climate scientist Andrew Weaver, there is now an opportunity to reset and find more realistic ways to tap the wealth of natural gas in the Peace region.
“The idea that there is going to be a big mega project like Petronas [Pacific NorthWest LNG] was nothing but a pipe dream,” says Andrew Weaver. “The real question is, what are we going to do with the resource?”
Malaysia’s Petronas has cancelled plans to build the Pacific NorthWest LNG plant on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, B.C., in a move seen as a major setback for B.C.'s LNG dreams and as a major win for those concerned about climate change and salmon habitat.
The project would have involved increased natural gas production in B.C.’s Montney Basin, a new 900-kilometre pipeline and the export terminal itself.
Here’s what you need to know about Tuesday’s announcement.
The Federal Court of Appeal has ruled that the National Energy Board (NEB) made a legal mistake by not considering whether TransCanada’s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline is under federal jurisdiction, thus requiring NEB approval.
The 900-kilometre natural gas pipeline would move mostly fracked gas from northeastern B.C. to the proposed Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal near Prince Rupert.
The pipeline was approved by the B.C. government but Smithers, B.C., resident Mike Sawyer requested that the NEB hold a full hearing to determine whether the pipeline is actually in federal jurisdiction.
By Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Ben Parfitt
One of the most important things that all Green and New Democratic Party MLAs agreed to in reaching their historic agreement to cooperate in governing together is their “foundational” support of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Declaration is absolutely unambiguous in stating the “urgent need” for governments to respect and promote the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples to their lands, territories and resources.
Enter the $8.8 billion Site C hydroelectric dam, a project that former premier Christy Clark vowed to push past the point of no return, but that remains years away from construction.
A patchwork of roads, ditches and unauthorized dams are scarring First Nations territories in north east B.C. while water sources are being jeopardised by natural gas companies using hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of water for fracking, according to a study conducted for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
A sharp increase in fracking operations is underway in B.C. but First Nations have little say in decisions about how the companies operate on their traditional lands, finds the study, written by Ben Parfitt, CCPA resource policy analyst.
“Today, in the more remote reaches of northeast B.C., more water is used in fracking operations than anywhere else on earth — and substantial increases in water use will have to occur in the event a liquefied natural gas industry emerges in B.C.,” the paper states.
A race to expand B.C. natural gas pipelines and infrastructure is on, signalling two possible outcomes: the death of our homegrown liquefied natural gas (LNG) export dream, and the dawn of the most ironic resource boom in provincial history.
Consider that B.C. natural gas is finally going to be exported overseas by LNG tanker — not from Pacific tidewater, but through Cheniere's new Sabine River LNG export terminal on the Gulf coast near Louisiana. In February 2017, Bloomberg reported Cheniere had entered into a supply deal that would see gas from the Montney shale formation [which straddles B.C. and Alberta] shipped from the facility.
“This is a great potential outlet [for Canada],” Madeline Jowdy, Pira Energy Group’s Senior Director of Global Gas and LNG, told Bloomberg of the Cheniere LNG deal. She added that B.C. LNG projects “look like they are going to be a long time coming, if ever, in my opinion.”