Greenhouse gas trial balloon leaks

Tom Fletcher looks at LNG and greenhouse emissions.

VICTORIA – Last week I described the inevitable demise of B.C.’s “carbon neutral government” scheme, which continues to take millions from hospitals and schools to fund greenhouse gas reduction projects of questionable value.

It’s like the AirCare program, a pollution solution that sounded great at the time. AirCare soon found itself chasing diminishing environmental returns, made redundant by new vehicle technology and the financial need to save fuel. Public sector carbon offsets will suffer the same fate, growing as a political liability as their effectiveness declines.

All this is separate from B.C.’s carbon tax and greenhouse gas reduction program, another environmental trial balloon that is sinking back to Earth.

Former premier Gordon Campbell’s climate goals officially remain in place: 33 per cent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 and a whopping 80 per cent by 2050. If the gas boom proceeds as planned, B.C. domestic emissions will not be down, but up substantially by 2020.

New liquefied natural gas export proposals continue to pop up, the latest ones on former industrial sites near Squamish and Campbell River. And with the surge of LNG activity around Kitimat and Prince Rupert already changing the landscape, questions linger about the pollution and greenhouse gas impacts.

As she left for the government’s largest ever trade mission to Asia, Premier Christy Clark dismissed a study that estimated the impact of three LNG plants. That study, done by Kitimat environment group Skeena Wild, assumed “direct drive” technology to chill and compress gas for export. It concluded that three plants would burn two and a half times the amount of natural gas currently used in Metro Vancouver.

Clark and Environment Minister Mary Polak relied on the same talking point to reject the study. The technology of powering LNG is still being negotiated, as producers work towards environmental permits, so the total can’t be calculated yet.

BC Hydro is predicting little electricity demand for LNG until after 2020, which suggests the early development will either be direct drive, the industry standard and simplest method, or building one or more gas-fired power plants in northwest B.C. Even if gas usage is only equivalent to one Lower Mainland, it’s plain to see greenhouse gas emissions are going up.

Clark has repeatedly argued that B.C. LNG should get credit for displacing coal in China and elsewhere.

I asked Polak if the international community would accept B.C.’s assertion that emissions from our LNG production shouldn’t count.

“We haven’t said we won’t count them,” Polak replied. “What the premier’s talked about and I’ve talked about is that this whole issue of how one accounts for greenhouse gases in a particular region is one that is constantly evolving. There are regularly changes to the international standards for accounting for these things and reporting them. And certainly the ability for one jurisdiction to impact positively on the GHG emissions of another, we think is appropriately considered in how one accounts for these things.”

Clark visited the Jiangsu LNG import facility in China that could be a key export destination.

Globe and Mail China correspondent Nathan Vanderklippe covered the premier’s visit. He reports that the gas being imported at Jiangsu isn’t replacing coal. It’s being used in addition to coal in peak demand periods.

Clark also visited Japan, another key customer for LNG. The whole world knows why Japan needs new energy sources. It needs to replace production from its disaster-tainted nuclear facilities.

Will B.C. LNG be part of the solution to human-induced climate change? On the evidence so far, the answer is no.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. tfletcher@blackpress.ca

 

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