Opinion: British Columbians deserve to hear the real cost of LNG
With the prospect of building LNG facilities in B.C. back in the headlines, British Columbians are once again confronted with the question of whether or how LNG should proceed — and the climate change implications.
Premier John Horgan’s visit to a number of Asian countries with potential interest in buying LNG from B.C. sparked a particularly strong reaction from B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver. This is no surprise, given the premier’s comments focused on the economic aspects of LNG, with no mention of how a growing LNG industry would be reconciled with his government’s commitment to deliver deep cuts to carbon pollution — one of the four conditions for LNG established by his government.
Is it possible to have even limited natural gas production and LNG exports while cutting pollution in keeping with our 2030 and 2050 climate commitments? The answer is complicated, and it introduces new questions that other industrial sectors and British Columbians need to both understand and carefully consider. That consideration wasn’t afforded to them under the previous government.
Based on modelling conducted by Navius Research — a leading energy, technology and economic analysis firm — here are three things British Columbians need to know about LNG and the province’s climate change commitments:
1) It would be impossible to meet our carbon pollution reduction targets if the LNG plants that already have permits proceed as planned, as they don’t intend to use technologies and approaches that would adequately reduce carbon pollution.
2) If they did employ this technology, B.C. still couldn’t have anywhere close to the number of LNG facilities that have been proposed. At most, the province could have the equivalent of a single large LNG facility and a few other smaller facilities. These LNG projects would need to run almost entirely on electricity, instead of burning gas, and there would need to be a significant reduction of methane emissions from the gas production serving them.
3) Most importantly for the rest of B.C. businesses and citizens, in order to create “room” for significant amounts of new pollution from an LNG export industry, other industrial sectors and British Columbians would need to cut their pollution faster than would otherwise be the case. That’s a pretty big favour for the LNG industry — and the government — to ask, and one that needs to be transparently addressed.
Champions of LNG shrug off the increased carbon pollution that would accompany more fracked gas production in the northeast and LNG facilities on the northwest coast. They point out that B.C. gas could replace coal-fired power in its Asian destinations. While a recent study suggested this is a possibility, it also acknowledged the uncertainty in truly knowing what is being displaced by natural gas, noting that as wind and solar power costs continue to fall, LNG could increasingly be competing with renewable energy.
Regardless, B.C.’s carbon pollution would increase significantly with the development of LNG, and it is our own pollution that we are accountable for first and foremost. We can only truly control what happens in our own backyard. The fight against climate change requires accountability and follow-through on our climate commitments.
The prospect of developing an LNG industry remains highly uncertain. A global energy transition to clean energy is underway and accelerating. While natural gas will play a role for a time, its long-term future is uncertain — it is not, in other words, a ticket to lasting economic prosperity.
B.C. has many economic, social and environmental goals: reconciliation, revitalizing the mining and forestry sectors, spurring growth in information and clean technology, developing an energy roadmap, charting a new climate action strategy. The government must weave efforts to pursue these goals together, so they are mutually supportive instead of at odds, and this must start with a clear plan to achieve B.C.’s 2030 carbon pollution cuts.
It’s a responsibility the previous government shrugged off, and one that now rests on Premier Horgan’s shoulders.
Merran Smith is the executive director and Dan Woynillowicz is the policy director of Clean Energy Canada, a think tank at Simon Fraser University.