WWF-Canada Blog:

Liquefied Natural Gas- Boom or doom? WWF says there’s room to debate

That’s what  we asked at  last night’s sell-out public dialogue on B.C.’s Liquefied Natural Gas Ambitions, the first public event  of the new Energy Forum moderated by our co-hosts Clean Energy BC  and Clean Energy Canada.

The LNG gold rush is on. The government proposes to have at least three liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals up and running on the B.C. coast by 2020. And last week reports of four additional proposed LNG export plants for BC  surfaced. LNG is extracted by fracking, (hydraulic fracturing) and exported after a ‘freeze and squeeze’ process.

Sony NEX-7 | adapter + Tokina 17mm f/3.5 lens


Industrial work camp, northern BC. (C) Mike Ambach, WWF-Canada

Questions about LNG are welling up faster than a gusher. Mark Grist, from Fortis B opened with a brief “ LNG 101”.  Each of the other expert panelists gave 4 word summaries of what LNG means to BC:

  • Karena Shaw, University of Victoria: Inadequately Benefitting British Columbians.
  • Art Sterritt, Coastal First Nations: Non-understandable, Unplanned, Unrealistic and Unachievable.
  • Kathryn Harrison, UBC: Risky, Irresponsible, Unfair, and Willfully-Blind.
  • Steve Davis, IPP Consultant: Infrastructure, Opportunity, a Legacy Lost.
  • Tom Syer, Business Council of BC: Generational Opportunity, Big Challenges.

What does LNG mean to WWF-Canada? Here are our key words and questions:

Climate:  We’re concerned that such rapid scale LNG development is at odds with BC’s ambitious and laudatory climate targets . According to experts like Pembina’s Matt Horne, and with  WWF’s vision of a 100% renewable energy fuelled future by 2050.  The International Energy Agency warns that global development of shale gas would put CO2 emissions on a “trajectory consistent with a probable temperature rise of more than3.5 degrees Celsius in the long term”, well above the globally agreed target of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees.

Renewable Energy: But if LNG development is fuelled by renewables, as many in the clean energy sector advocate, and as the Coastal First Nations recommend, and will truly displace dirtier fossil fuel use elsewhere, that could change the balance sheet.

Water: Impacts of LNG on water keep bubbling to the surface:  On average, fracturing a shale gas well requires 11 million litres of water. According to the BC Oil and Gas Commission, over 7300 new wells have been drilled in BC for LNG development since 2005 and between 500 and 1,000 new wells are being permitted in the province each year, the majority of which will use hydraulic fracturing.

Toxic Disclosure: Oil and gas exploration and drilling activities are exempt from reporting to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI.) so there’s less than full public disclosure about environmental and human health impacts from the estimated more than 800 chemicals used in fracturing fluid chemicals. (The fracfocus provincial site is a step in the right direction but doesn’t replicate many of the NPRI’s best features. )

Oceans. LNG development will also affect BC’s ocean environment. One project proposes to build a processing plant in the middle of sensitive eelgrass habitat.  A surge of exports means more tankers too. We’re trying to quantify the impacts of shipping noise on whales on the North Coast. What will this increase in shipping traffic mean?

Caribou. And then there are the declining populations of threatened mountain caribou  in northern BC, affected by habitat loss and fragmentation from natural gas and other industrial activities.

What should the government do about these projected impacts?

The BC government’s LNG Strategy promotes it as a stable, low-risk fossil fuel and emphasizes its’ potential economic benefits. Elsewhere, from France to Bulgaria to New York State to Nova Scotia, governments are trying to come to grips with LNG through permanent or temporary moratoriums, development pauses for further study, commissioning studies while development proceeds, or revising regulations to deal with the impacts.

The Energy Forum event yesterday solidified some knowledge of the issues at stake in LNG development. We’ll continue to grapple with this issue, and to promote climate friendly, low-impact and renewable energy solutions.