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 Trevor Jang for Discourse Media.
Earl Muldon sits at his kitchen table surrounded by family, sipping coffee. His wife Shirley brings over a plate of cream cake topped with huckleberries. They’re hand-picked from the land surrounding his two-storey home in Gitanmaax, a village of about 800 people from the Gitxsan Nation in northwestern British Columbia, near the town of New Hazelton.
To the Gitxsan people, 80-year-old Muldon is known by another name: Delgamuukw. That name — a symbolic ancestral chief name passed down from generation to generation of Gitxsan people — is also one of the most well-known chief names in the rest of Canada. Delgamuukw was the lead plaintiff in a historic court case that confirmed that Aboriginal title, ownership of traditional lands had not been extinguished by any colonial government.
“It’s a name that’s greatly respected. We’ve earned respect for it,” says Muldon, who was one of three people to hold the Delgamuukw name during the court proceedings.
This article originally appeared on The Tyee.
Two University of Calgary law professors have demanded Alberta’s energy regulator withdraw its “inaccurate and misleading” statement on a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that a landowner couldn’t sue it for alleged rights violations.
The court ruled Friday, in a split decision, that Jessica Ernst couldn’t sue the oil and gas regulator for allegedly violating her Charter rights.
The Alberta Energy Regulator posted a statement on its website in response to the highly technical ruling.
“The Court did not find there was a breach of Ms. Ernst’s Charter rights, and made no findings of negligence on the part of the AER or its predecessor the ERCB,” declared the statement.
But law professors Shaun Fluker and Sharon Mascher have written in a popular legal blog that the regulator’s claim isn’t true.
This article originally appeared on The Tyee.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled Jessica Ernst can’t sue the powerful and controversial Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) over alleged violations of her Charter rights.
The split ruling Friday — five justices rejected her claim, with four supporting it — is a setback for the protection of groundwater and the rights of landowners dealing with provincial energy regulators, often funded or captured by industry interests, say many critics and lawyers.
The majority, led by Justice Thomas Cromwell, upheld an immunity clause passed by the legislature that protects the Alberta Energy Regulator from any Charter claims or lawsuits.
In 2007, Ernst, an oil patch environmental consultant, sued the Alberta government, Encana and the regulator for negligence over the contamination of local aquifers near her Rosebud home allegedly caused by the hydraulic fracturing of shallow gas wells in 2004.
By Andrew MacLeod for The Tyee.
The British Columbia government has pulled a television ad that claimed $20 billion has already been invested in the LNG industry in the province, but denies the decision was due to a citizen’s complaint to the industry body that self-regulates advertising in Canada.
Blogger Merv Adey reported Thursday that a complaint about the liquified natural gas ad one of his readers had made to Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) had succeeded.
“Rather than respond to the complaint… the B.C. Government has decided to withdraw the misleading $20-billion figure from all its advertising,” he wrote. “The ASC now considers the matter closed, though a case summary with no names attached will appear on the ASC’s quarterly report.”
This article originally appeared on The Tyee.
Another U.S. study has found that hydraulic fracking, which triggers small- to medium-sized earthquakes, can change the chemistry and quality of groundwater.
The report comes at the same time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released the final version of its five-year-long study on fracking, which confirms that all stages of the brute force technology “can impact and have impacted drinking water resources” and that impacts vary “in frequency and severity” depending on location, the scale of operations, and technologies used.
The findings put to rest claims by the oil and gas industry and its regulators that hydraulic fracturing is entirely safe and proven.
In 2010, for example, Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil and now President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, told a Congressional hearing, “There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one.”
If you feel exhausted by Canada’s fevered debates about oil pipelines, liquefied natural gas terminals, renewable energy projects and mines, there just might be relief in sight.
Right now, the federal government is reviewing its environmental assessment (EA) process. Yes, it’s reviewing its reviews. And while that might sound kinda boring, it could actually revolutionize the way Canada makes decisions about energy projects.
“My highest hope is that Canada will take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity … and take a really visionary approach to environmental assessment,” said Anna Johnston, staff counsel at West Coast Environmental Law.
That could include implementing something called “strategic environmental assessment,” which creates a forum for the larger discussions about things like oil exports, LNG development or all mining in an area.
So instead of the current environmental assessment process, in which pipeline reviews have become proxy battles for issues such as climate change and cumulative effects, there’d actually be a higher-level review designed specifically to examine those big-picture questions.
Fracking has induced earthquakes in northwest Alberta, some of which have lasted for months due to residual fracking fluid, according to a new study published in Science today.
Earthquakes induced by fracking have been noticed in Western Canada for about four years, but this is one of the first studies to specifically identify the causes that resulted in “activation.”
This article originally appeared on The Climate Examiner at the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.
British Columbia’s first major liquefied natural gas project is set to go ahead with Woodfibre LNG’s announcement last week of funding to build a $1.6 billion processing and export plant in Squamish.
The project, which promises some 650 construction jobs and 100 permanent operating jobs to the small town with a population of 17,000, aims to begin exporting some 2.1 million tonnes of LNG annually to Asia from 2020.
The plant is much smaller than the highly controversial $11 billion Pacific NorthWest (PNW) LNG terminal planned near Prince Rupert that received conditional approval from the federal Liberal government in September and which would ship some ten times the amount of the Woodfibre project each year.
It is however the first of 20 proposed LNG export projects in British Columbia to be given company approval — a development that will bring much cheer to the provincial government which is facing an election next May and for whom a flourishing LNG industry is the centerpiece of its economic development plans.
By Andrew Nikiforuk for The Tyee.
Every day, methane promoters in British Columbia’s government manage to out-trump Donald Trump.
The hoopla over the $1.6-billion Woodfibre LNG terminal, which will industrialize Howe Sound and the city of Squamish,
illustrates just how far the Christy Clark-led BC Liberal government will go to subvert the truth.
The government billed the event as maker of economic prosperity and the beginning of a winning fight against climate change.
Both claims read like Trump balderdash with no basis in reality.
Gaps in basic knowledge about salmon in the estuary near Flora Bank call into question the review — and approval — of the Pacific Northwest LNG terminal proposed for the mouth of the Skeena River, according to new research from fisheries biologist Jonathan Moore.
Data published Wednesday in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series shows salmon species don’t merely transit through the Skeena River estuary, as advanced by Pacific Northwest LNG in its environmental assessment, but can linger in the unique estuary environment for much longer periods of time than previously thought.
“In its environmental assessment Pacific Northwest LNG stated young salmon were moving through the estuary. Our data states that’s not true; the salmon are residing in the area.”