During the 2013 provincial election campaign, Premier Christy Clark made outrageous statements about what a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry would do for British Columbia. She claimed that its manufacture and sale would bring in $100 billion, enough to pay off the provincial debt of $65 billion by 2020, and establish a B.C. Prosperity Fund for future generations.
Since she made the promises the premier has signed a letter of intent with Pacific Northwest LNG, a group of companies led by Malaysia’s national oil company, Petronas, to build an LNG facility at Port Edward near Prince Rupert.
Clark has continued to make ludicrous comments about LNG. She has called it “the cleanest fossil fuel on the planet” and during a trade mission to China earlier this year she is reported to have said, “I think this is the biggest opportunity British Columbia has ever had to clean up the world’s air, by exporting the cleanest natural gas in the world and our plants are going to be some of the cleanest in the world.”
Damien Gillis, a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker who focuses on environmental and social-justice issues, asked for comment on the premier’s claim from Dr. Robert Howarth of Cornell University, possibly the world’s leading authority on the climate impacts of shale gas. Howarth reponded, “Your premier has her facts wrong.”
Howarth has done extensive research on “fugitive methane emissions,” the gas that escapes during the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process. He acknowledges that natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal or oil when burned but the gas that escapes during the fracking process has a huge impact on the climate.
According to Howarth, methane is 86 times more powerful as a GHG than carbon dioxide. “Methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas that when you look at the cumulative impact of these greenhouse gas emissions, natural gas-and particularly shale gas-is the worst of fossil fuels.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agrees with Howarth that methane is a greater heat trap than carbon dioxide (CO2).
Howarth also states that natural gas, particularly shale gas, is the worst of the fossil fuels and liquefying it makes it even worse because the conversion to LNG requires the burning and bleeding of huge quantities of gas to produce the liquid.
The conversion of natural gas also requires huge amounts of water, a fact the premier never mentions. Ben Parfitt, a researcher for the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has estimated that 582 billion litres of water would be removed annually from the hydrological cycle to support the industry.
Fortunately, some energy companies are turning to water recycling for their water supply. EnCana and Apache have jointly developed a process where water is drawn from a deep saline aquifer, treated, used to frack wells and then pumped back into the same formation where it is available to be reused. The process has cut the use of fresh water by 95 per cent.
The premier does not mention that natural gas production would have to increase considerably in the gas fields to more than two billion cubic feet and the terminals that chill the gas to a liquid would add another five megatonnes of emissions.
If three proposed LNG facilities are built the province’s GHG emission reduction targets of 33% decrease by 2020 and an 80% decrease by 2050 will never be achieved.
Will the premier’s election promise ever materialize?
If she is counting on Petronas it may not. In 2014 Petronas announced that it would not proceed with its proposed LNG plant near Prince Rupert because of a lack of appropriate incentives. Shortly afterward B.C lowered its proposed LNG tax from seven per cent to 3.5 per cent.
More recently the company stated that it might delay any work in B.C. until 2022 or 2024 and only if the price of natural gas rises. Perhaps that is a good omen and LNG production will never occur.