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
By Maximilian Kniewasser, Pembina Institute.
Four years ago, the government of British Columbia bet big on the prospect of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports creating overseas markets for the province’s shale and tight gas resources.
LNG development would deliver 100,000 jobs, a $100-billion Prosperity Fund, and over $1 trillion in economic activity, British Columbians were told. Since then, however, the economics of LNG have shifted, and the predicted LNG boom has yet to materialize.
In order to attract LNG investment, the provincial government has provided myriad incentives, exemptions, and direct transfers to the natural gas industry. Financial incentives that shield the emissions-intensive industry from current and potential future increases in carbon costs are of particular concern to the Pembina Institute.
For one thing, these measures lessen the incentive to reduce carbon pollution — as the world increasingly demands that polluters pay for their emissions. Furthermore, such incentives use scarce public dollars to support the fossil fuel sector at a time when government should be removing barriers to clean innovation and investing in green jobs.
Here is an overview of six carbon-related incentives that benefit LNG projects and the natural gas industry in B.C.
A subsidiary of Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned petro giant courted by the B.C. government, has built at least 16 unauthorized dams in northern B.C. to trap hundreds of millions of gallons of water used in its controversial fracking operations.
The 16 dams are among “dozens” that have been built by Petronas and other companies without proper authorizations, a senior dam safety official with the provincial government told the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which began investigating the problem in late March after receiving a tip from someone with knowledge of how widespread the problem is.
Two of the dams built by Progress Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of Petronas, are towering earthen structures that exceed the height of five-storey apartment buildings. Petronas has proposed building a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Prince Rupert, which if built would result in dramatic increases in fracking and industrial water use throughout northeast B.C.
The two dams are so large that they should have been subject to review by B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO). Only if a review concluded that the projects could proceed would the EAO have issued a certificate, and only then could the company have moved on to get the necessary authorizations from other provincial agencies.
But nothing close to that happened because the company never submitted its plans to the EAO before the dams were built.
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.
New, groundbreaking research from a group of scientists shows B.C.’s estimates of methane pollution from oil and gas activity in the province’s Peace region are wildly underestimated.
Using infrared cameras and gas detection instruments at over a thousand oil and gas sites during a three-year period, scientists from the David Suzuki Foundation in partnership with St. Francis Xavier University recorded fugitive methane emissions being released from facilities directly into the atmosphere on a perpetual basis.
The study estimates methane pollution from industry in B.C. is at least 2.5 times higher than the B.C. government reports. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with the warming potential 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period.
This article originally appeared on The Tyee.
There are places one can sit and consider the past and future with equal clarity. On this October day, Harold Steves, 79, an outspoken environmentalist and Richmond city councillor, looks from the riverbank at the end of Richmond’s Rice Mill Road.
Directly in front of him is the Fraser River, and directly below his feet lies Highway 99’s George Massey Tunnel. Given a $22-million seismic upgrade a decade ago, it was said by then-B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon that the tunnel was safe and a future twinning would eliminate the twice-daily commuter bottleneck.
But if today’s B.C. government has its way, work will start late this year on a massive $3.5-billion bridge, financed through a Public-Private Partnership (P3), to be completed by 2022.
Which means a stiff toll to pay off private creditors in the years ahead. Which will also mean that the perfectly safe, perfectly good tunnel will be removed.
Back in 2007, when Alberta landowner Jessica Ernst filed her lawsuit over water contamination from the hydraulic fracturing of shallow coal seams near her property, most Canadians had never even heard of “fracking.”
Ten years later, nearly everyone has at least heard of the controversial process of accessing oil and gas deposits.
To some, it’s an economic saviour. To others, it’s a threat to fresh water and yet another step toward climate change catastrophe. But many others don’t know what to think, especially when some provinces embrace fracking while others put a freeze on the practice.
To help you sort it out, we’ve put together this primer on what fracking really is, where it’s happening in Canada and what’s known (and not known) about the risks to the environment and human health.
The B.C. government is subsidizing the LNG industry to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars — and British Columbians are going to pay the price, according to a new report by Sierra Club B.C.
The report, Hydro Bill Madness: The BC Government Goes For Broke With Your Money, lays out the impact of tax breaks, subsidies and reduced electricity rates negotiated by industry.
“Power subsidies to even just two or three of the proposed LNG plants could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” reads a press release accompanying the report.
Two LNG export terminals have been approved in B.C. — Petronas’ Pacific Northwest LNG on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert and the Woodfibre LNG plant in Howe Sound near Squamish. Another 18 are proposed.
Both companies have been major donors to the B.C. Liberal party, which has ruled the province for 16 years and faces an election on May 9.
Malaysian-owned Pacific Northwest LNG donated more than $18,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2014, while Indonesian-based Woodfibre has found itself in the midst of a growing scandal over illegal donations.
This is a guest post by Ray Eagle.
Many British Columbians may not realize that the $9 billion Site C dam, currently under construction on the Peace River, has a 46-year back-story.
B.C. Hydro began engineering studies for Site C back in 1971. In the early 1980s B.C. Hydro went before the newly formed British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC), created “to ensure that ratepayers receive safe, reliable, and nondiscriminatory energy services at fair rates from the utilities it regulates, and that shareholders of those utilities are afforded a reasonable opportunity to earn a fair return on their invested capital.”
In November 1983, the BCUC issued a 315-page summary that stated the dam was not needed at that time, while at the same time criticizing B.C. Hydro’s forecasting ability.
“The Commission examined the methodology of Hydro's forecasting … and concluded that, while significant improvements have been made, further improvements can and should be made to improve reliability,” the report read.
This article originally appeared on The Tyee.
Imagine if you lived in a nice quiet community of about 30 people, and the Chinese government got permission to plunk a $20-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on your doorstep.
Holy snapping duck shit! Chances are you’d want a pretty strong say in whether that could or should happen, under what conditions, with whose permission — and you’d want a very clear, objective analysis of the costs and benefits, and the risks, to you, your family, your neighbours, not to mention the physical place that would be so massively disrupted by such a project — you know, the place you currently call home.
Most of us don’t live in nice quiet communities of 30 people — or maybe we do. On my residential block in East Vancouver, I’d say that (based on the census’s estimated average of 2.6 people per household in Vancouver) there are 30 people on my side of the street alone. Maybe you live in an old apartment building with 30 people in it total; maybe a condo with 30 people on your floor. Anyway, 30 people isn’t a lot, but $20 billion is, and right now, on Digby Island — right across the harbour from Prince Rupert in northern B.C. — the tiny community of Dodge Cove is staring down a project that would pretty much destroy it.
It’s become a “sacrifice zone” — yet another bucolic corner of the world at risk of being flattened on the anvil of progress.
Between the Site C dam, Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility, it’s hard to keep track of all the projects that have been approved in B.C. But for First Nations that will be affected by the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal and pipelines, the environmental and cultural impacts are impossible to escape.
In what is now the fourth federal lawsuit filed against the federal government’s approval of the $36 billion LNG project, two Gitxsan Nation hereditary chiefs have filed a judicial review arguing that Pacific NorthWest LNG infringes on their Aboriginal fishing rights.
In October of last year, judicial reviews were also filed in federal court by the Gitanyow and Gitwilgyoots First Nations, as well as the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.
The main concern? Salmon. Specifically, salmon stocks in the Skeena watershed, which supports Canada's second-largest salmon run. The LNG export terminal is planned for Lelu Island, near Prince Rupert, a site the federal government studied 40 years ago and found unsuitable or port development.