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
Figures in a B.C. greenhouse gas inventory released quietly before Christmas show emissions have risen for four of the last five years.
Previously the province released a full public report on emissions, including inventory methodology, every two years but in December the government released a excel spreadsheet simply listing emissions figures for the second year in a row. The spreadsheet was published without any formal announcement or news release.
By law the province is required to reduce emissions 80 per cent from 2007 levels by 2050. In 2008 the province created a benchmark within that reduction, committing to get to 33 per cent reductions by 2020.
But the new figures show B.C. is not on course to meet that 2020 target. Instead emissions are only 2.1 per cent lower than the baseline year of 2007 and are on the rise.
B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver went from being B.C.’s solitary Green MLA in 2013 to holding the balance of power in the province’s current minority government.
While the transition has had its ups and downs for the climate scientist, public scrutiny of Weaver’s position and what he ought to do with his influence in government hit an all-time high recently with government’s decision to forge ahead with the controversial Site C dam.
We caught up with Weaver at his office in the legislature to ask him to reflect on the last seven months of cooperation with the NDP government and what he anticipates 2018 holds for some of B.C.’s most pressing energy and environment concerns.
Originally published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
More than half of nearly 50 dams that fossil fuel companies built in recent years without first obtaining the proper permits had serious structural problems that could have caused many of them to fail.
And now, B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission (OGC), which appeared to be asleep at the switch in allowing the unlicensed dams to be built in the first place, is frantically trying to figure out what to do about them after the fact.
Information about the unprecedented, unregulated dam-building spree is contained in a raft of documents that the OGC released in response to Freedom of Information requests filed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Hundreds of gas wells could be leaking methane and potentially contaminating groundwater, according to a B.C. Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) report that has been kept secret from the public and politicians for four years.
That suppression of information is giving ammunition to calls for a full public inquiry into fracking operations in the province.
“It is deeply troubling that B.C.’s energy regulator kept this report secret. Why did it not tell the public? Why, as the OGC now alleges, did it also not share the report with cabinet ministers who have responsibility for the energy industry?” Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, told DeSmog Canada.
Canadians are among the world’s top water guzzlers, with each person using enough water, on average, to fill almost 13,000 bathtubs each year, and pay little for the privilege. For example, in B.C., oil and gas companies pay pennies on the dollar compared to regular users for their water usage.
But just how healthy are the lakes, rivers, and streams in B.C. that supply us with drinking water and H2O for industrial uses such as fracking?
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?”