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
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.”
Roland Willson is a practical man. As chief of the West Moberly First Nation in northeastern B.C., he’s got to be.
“The natural gas industry is the main source of employment,” Willson said over coffee in Victoria this week, before heading into meetings with the B.C. NDP and B.C. Green parties. “It’s a natural resource economy up there.”
Of all the industrial activity happening on his traditional territory — ranging from fracking to forestry to coal mining — one development takes the cake: the Site C dam.
With B.C.’s new NDP-Green alliance, and its promise to send the $9 billion Site C for an independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC), there’s reason for Willson to be hopeful.
“We are hopeful that this stupid project is going to get stopped. They’ve done nothing that can’t be undone so far. The trees will grow back. The animals will come back,” Willson. “I'm pretty confident that if it goes to the BCUC, it'll be deemed non-viable.”
Unrefined fossil fuels won’t be shipped out of a small Washington State export facility at Cherry Point any time soon, due to a temporary moratorium imposed by the Whatcom County Council.
The moratorium positions Cherry Point as a major roadblock for both U.S. and Canadian companies scrounging for export facilities to ship unprocessed oil, gas and coal to overseas markets.
“We are determined to use whatever legal tools we have to address climate change and to protect good refining jobs,” Barry Buchanan, council chair in Whatcom County, told DeSmog Canada.
Amid dwindling community-level support for fossil fuel infrastructure and after the U.S. lifted a 40-year old oil export ban, Cherry Point has been flooded with export permit applications for LNG, propane, coal and bitumen.
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.