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
Early last spring, provincial civil servants cut off virtually all communication about what the government knew about a sprawling network of potentially dangerous and unregulated dams in northeast B.C. on the pretext they could not comment because of the impending election.
The coordinated effort meant there was virtually no comment until months after voting day from front-line agencies on how 92 unlicensed dams were built on the then BC Liberal government’s watch.
The number of unlicensed and potentially dangerous dams built in recent years in northeast British Columbia is nearly double what has been reported, according to one of the province’s top water officials.
At least 92 unauthorized dams have been built in the region, where natural gas industry fracking operations consume more water than just about anywhere on earth. That’s far more than the 51 dams previously identified in documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).
By Amy Lubik, Ben Parfitt and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
Just two days before B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announced a completely inadequate “independent scientific review” of fracking in our province, an international team of scientists issued a stark warning about the human health risks associated with the natural gas industry's rampant use of this brute force technology.
“Our examination…uncovered no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health,” concluded the scientists, who were affiliated either with the Concerned Health Professionals of New York or the Nobel Peace Prize-winning group, Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Tellingly, the scientific review just announced by the B.C. government will expressly not investigate the human health impacts of fracking.
When the B.C. government announced its promised review of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earlier this month, it came as a shock to many that it wouldn’t examine human health impacts.
The announcement coincided with the release in the U.S. of the most authoritative study of fracking’s threats to human health ever published, which found “no evidence that fracking can be practiced in a manner that does not threaten human health.”
For Caleb Behn, the government’s announcement marked a loss of hope in the less than one-year-old NDP government.
The B.C. government unveiled a new natural gas development plan Thursday in an attempt to trigger a final investment deal with LNG Canada, the proponents of B.C.’s largest proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal, located in Kitimat.
The NDP’s new framework offers LNG Canada and other companies tax reprieves and exemptions and a cheaper electricity rate than the previous B.C. Liberal government extended to the industry. The government is also offering a carbon tax break to LNG companies if their facilities can meet the “cleanest” operating standards in the world.
B.C.’s scientific inquiry into fracking won’t address risks to public health, the government quietly assured the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) nearly six weeks before government publicly announced the inquiry on Thursday.
B.C. also assured CAPP the inquiry would not address industry’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, according to documents obtained by DeSmog Canada.
“You have the preeminent industry association in the country given six weeks advance notice not only about the inquiry itself but a clear indication that key things are simply not going to be addressed,” Ben Parfitt, an investigative journalist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, told DeSmog Canada.
”I’m deeply troubled by that.”
The B.C. government tried to steer clear of controversy over liquefied natural gas exports, the Site C dam and fish farms in the Speech from the Throne Tuesday. The speech laid out the NDP’s “affordability” agenda and unveiled plans to revitalize the environment assessment process and address fugitive emissions in the oil and gas sector.
“As B.C. develops its abundant natural resources, we must do so in a way that meets our obligations to the environment, First Nations and the public interest,” read the speech, presented by Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon to mark the start of a new legislative session.
“This year, government is taking important steps to restore public trust in B.C.’s environmental stewardship.”
If you’d met John Werring four years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you what an abandoned gas well looked like.
“We had no idea whether they were even accessible,” said the registered professional biologist.
That was before the summer of 2014, when he headed up to Fort St. John, B.C., on a reconnaissance mission. At that time, much was known about leaking gas wells in the United States, but there was very little data on Canada.
All Werring had to work with was a map of abandoned wells provided by B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission. Armed with a gas monitor and a metal detector, he headed into what the gas industry calls the “Montney formation,” one of the largest shale gas resources in the world. Shale gas is primarily accessed via hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
“Most of these places, there’s nobody in the field,” Werring said. “You won’t see anybody for miles and miles. Just well after well after well.”
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver becomes downright indignant at suggestions he has retreated even a fraction from the LNG ultimatum he first delivered during a year-end interview with DeSmog Canada.
“If B.C. starts to focus again on trying to land an LNG industry given all that has happened, I can tell you I am voting government down,” Weaver said in late December. “I am not standing by and watching us give away the farm yet again to land an industry we’re not competitive in. That’s my line in the sand.”
While Premier John Horgan was on a trade mission in Asia last week, Weaver repeated his ultimatum on Twitter, threatening to topple the government if the NDP continued to pursue “LNG folly,” emphasizing that B.C. cannot meet its climate targets if any major LNG project goes ahead.
A potent, heat-trapping gas is being released into the atmosphere from B.C.’s oil and gas wells at a much higher rate than shown in industry and government reports and immediate action is needed, a new study by the David Suzuki Foundation confirms.
The findings, released Wednesday, follows on the heels of a previous peer-reviewed study by the Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University, which found methane emissions from B.C.’s oil and gas industry are two-and-a-half times higher than reported.
The study revealed that wells in the Montney region, in northeast B.C. near Fort St. John, released more than 11,800 tonnes of methane into the air annually — the equivalent of burning 4.5 million tonnes of coal or putting two million cars on the road.