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BC Can’t Back LNG and Fight Climate Change at the Same Time, Climate Scientists Say

BC Premier Christy Clark believes LNG projects can save the economy and the planet. Climate change scientists believe otherwise.

by James Wilt
Jun 27 2016, 4:28pm


Christy Clark signs pro-LNG autographs. Photo via Facebook

There's only one thing that BC Premier Christy Clark loves more than being at the centre of bizarre scandals (like trying to close down Vancouver's Burrard Bridge for a yoga class, or slut-shaming Miley Cyrus and Pamela Anderson on Twitter), and that's liquified natural gas.

LNG is indeed pretty fucking cool: frack a bit of gas, remove the water, mercury, and carbon dioxide, cool it down to -161 C, transport it a massive cryogenic boat that looks like it has four or five massive boobs and you can power some Japanese kid's PS4.

Prior to the 2013 election, Clark speculated that the sector would produce 100,000 jobs, $1 trillion in GDP, a $100 billion prosperity fund, and eliminate the provincial debt, the sales tax, and probably ISIS too (OK, not really). She's staked her entire career on it.

But not one of 20 proposed export facilities has been built, or even received a final investment decision.

Meanwhile, gas prices are really low thanks to North Dakota finally deciding to remind the world of its existence, rendering even the most absurdly generous/rapacious of tax breaks and regulatory loopholes in BC totally meaningless.

What's more, a recent forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests global demand for natural gas will peak in 2025, only a few years after BC might actually get a facility up and running.

This is all very bad news for Clark and her government.

But this is all very good news for climate and anti-fracking activists.

LNG Plants Increase Emissions

Clark and her government insist (and insist and insist) that LNG exports will be the "greatest single step British Columbia can take to fight climate change," having the ability to reduce forest fires and other climate catastrophes as countries like China replace their coal-fired power plants with gas.

Late last year, she told an interviewer that LNG's "going to help the world reach that goal" of limiting warming to 1.5 C set at the recent UN Paris climate change conference.

But it's total horseshit, according to climate change experts.

Or in more official terms: "What we're doing with these plants is we're adding sources of greenhouse gas emissions," Kirsten Zickfeld, geography professor at Simon Fraser University specializing in climate science, told VICE.

"We're going in the wrong direction," she adds. "We're adding infrastructure that will make it even more difficult to meet these climate targets, which are difficult to reach anyway."

In late May, 90 scientists and experts signed an open letter petitioning the federal government to reject the Pacific Northwest LNG project, a $36 billion project proposed to be built on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert. (Which is right next to a massive salmon population in Skeena River, a fact which some First Nations members aren't too happy about.)

As the letter points out, the Pacific Northwest project would ejaculate over 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year—combining emissions from the actual facility combined with increased "upstream" emissions which includes extraction and transport—adding a phenomenal 20-plus percent to the province's annual emissions output.

READ MORE: Meet the Indigenous Occupiers Challenging LNG Development on BC's Lelu Island

And that's just one plant.

If five LNG facilities were constructed as hoped for, it would add around 28 million tonnes in emissions annually according to a government report.

When paired with increased tarsands development—which could allow for an additional 30 million tonnes under Alberta's recently imposed cap—such growth would require the rest of the Canadian economy to drop by 59 percent below 2014 emissions levels by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement commitments (everyone ready to learn to love soy bacon and push your car off a cliff?)

That's because the liquefaction process for LNG is incredibly energy intensive. Gas also has to be burned to power the compressors that pump gas through the pipelines.

(There's a pretty decent fan theory kicking around that the reason the BC government has such a raging hard-on for the massive Site C dam—which will flood over 100 km of farmland and Indigenous territory—is because it needs so-called "renewable" energy to power the LNG industry and cut down on the domestic emissions associated with it.)

Then there's the problem of leaking methane, a greenhouse gas that also comes in large quantities from the assholes of cows that boasts a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide over a century.

Methane leaks are something the Pembina Institute's Matt Horne, who signed the open letter along with Zickfeld, suggests is currently underestimated.

The US Environmental Protection Agency uses an estimated upstream methane emissions rate of 1.33 percent, compared to Canada's assumed leakage rate of 0.27 percent.

"The numbers are just implausibly low," Horne told VICE. "We don't have a good sense of what the real number is, but I feel quite confident saying that number is higher than what's being reported."


A pipeline in BC (photo via Flickr user Bjorn)

Break Even Point a Half-Century Away

David Hughes, expert on unconventional fuels and author of four reports for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on LNG, says that reality of underestimated emissions combined with China's investments in new thermal-efficient coal plants means burning LNG imported from BC will actually result in 27 percent more emissions over 20 years and a mere seven percent less over 100 years.

"But that means you're going to have to wait 50 years even to break even," he notes. "And you're making things worse in the short-term. Likely, LNG would be used in addition to coal as opposed to shutting down coal."

That should be of very major concern.

Clark's been dishing out subsidies and smiles and tax breaks and more smiles and desperate 25-year deals that prevent the province from increasing its carbon tax and environmental protections without compensating LNG companies, something the former premier's chief of staff dubbed "an unprecedented giveaway to the biggest oil companies in the world."

Oh god, please stop smiling.

All this time, Clark could've been boosting wind power and energy efficiency and geothermal energy and an annually increased carbon tax and public transit investments and the proper measurement and reduction of methane leaks.

Both BC and Canada are going to blast past their 2025 and 2030 and 2050 emissions targets. Hughes says it'll be "virtually impossible" to meet climate targets, and that if BC really wants to build LNG facilities it shouldn't have signed an agreement like the Paris Agreement.

And Zickfeld says that even Canada's current targets are inadequate on an international scale, adding that governments have to make a decision whether they take climate change seriously and act accordingly.

"I think it is an illusion to think we can actually meet the targets in the Paris Agreement and continue building these things in Canada," she says. "There seems to be this cognitive disconnect, this almost delusion with political leaders, who on hand talk about taking climate change very seriously but on the other hand are still considering pipelines and LNG terminals."

The BC government does actually have the chance to make such a decision: this week, the province's Climate Leadership Plan will be released, illustrating how seriously the province takes the concerns of people like Horne, who served on the advisory panel and says that some LNG could be developed if accompanied by "very strong climate policy."

But let's be real.

The next BC election is less than a year away, and Clark has completely failed to deliver on the massive LNG promises that got her voted in last time. She's displayed less than zero interest in actually acting on climate change.

And given companies are already threatening to take their ball and go home if their projects don't get approved, like, immediately, it makes sense for Clark to keep any vaguely meaningful climate action until after 2017 so she doesn't scare off her friends with benefits (that dumbass 25-year deal that effectively locks in tax rates for LNG companies sure doesn't help).

This year could be the first in 100,000 years that the Arctic's ice-free. February 2016 was the most unusually warm month ever. France and Germany were hit with devastating floods in early June. North America's continuing to get slammed with drought, extreme heat, and wildfires.

Seems like a pretty perfect moment for Clark to cement her most bizarre scandal yet: continuing to cheerlead for more fossil fuels as the world burns from using fossil fuels.

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