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Much scrubbing required before BC produces world's cleanest LNG: report

A new report on British Columbia's controversial liquified natural gas ambitions says the Christy Clark government has a lot of scrubbing to do before it can produce "the cleanest LNG in the world."

The study by Clean Energy Canada, a group funded by Tides Canada, found that the cleanest LNG facilities were Norway's Statoil's Snohvit project and Australia's Gorgon plant on Barrow Island.

The production, pumping and liquifying of natural gas at these plants releases more than one-third of a tonne of carbon for every tonne of LNG produced.

In the last year, the Clark government has repeatedly vowed to produce "the cleanest" natural gas in the world but has no apparent plan.

As many as half a dozen LNG plants have been proposed for the West Coast with the goal of shipping gas to Asian markets.

Without new regulations and standards, B.C.'s proposed plants (only three have been approved to date) would produce three times more carbon per tonne of LNG produced than the world's cleanest plants.

"If British Columbia were truly to produce the cleanest LNG in the world with respect to life cycle carbon pollution, government and industry would need to find ways to close the 0.61 tonne emissions gap between the world-leading plants and the standard facilities currently on the table," says the report.

Shale gas in northern British Columbia is among the world's most uneconomic gas. Without low royalties, free water, subsidized geoscience and subsidized road construction, the region's gas production would be minimal given low natural gas prices. Clark has vowed that LNG will be the industry "that makes B.C. debt-free."

The so-called shale revolution, made possible by energy-intensive hydraulic fracturing, has created a North America natural gas glut.

As a consequence, multinationals are pushing for LNG exports as a way to boost the value of their reserves and improve their bottom lines. Exxon, Encana, Chevron and Shell have all overinvested in shale gas.

Many chemical companies in the United States, such as Dow Chemical, are opposed to the export of natural gas because it would raise the price of their feedstock and diminish their competitiveness.

Given that Australian and U.S. LNG gas will likely reach Asian markets first, even the business press acknowledges that tapping the province's remote shale resources "will require significant developmental efforts and commercial compromises."

The Tides Canada report suggests that B.C. could make its shale gas resources "clean" by using hydro, wind or solar to power the facilities instead of natural gas to power LNG facilities.

The province would also have to construct an energy-intensive carbon capture and storage plant to bury emissions from the Horn River where unconventional gas comes with a global liability: a 12 per cent carbon content.

The carbon-centric report makes no mention of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial practice of blasting apart deep rock formations with chemicals, sand and vast amounts of water.

Recent research suggests the high-drilling activity could contaminate groundwater over great distances with methane, as well as mobilize carcinogens such as arsenic into groundwater. Methane leakage from some shale fields can be as high as nine per cent, which makes unconventional shale gas as dirty as coal.

"Protests surrounding fracking for natural gas are legion in the U.S. and much of any growth in B.C. gas production would have to come from a very aggressive increase in the number of fracked wells in northeast B.C.," explains energy expert David Hughes.

He adds that the report does not capture the scale of the multi-billion-dollar LNG export scheme.

"The bottom line is B.C. politicians are talking about cranking B.C. gas production up to the current level of all of Canada," says energy expert Dave Hughes.

"You can argue about how to cut processing emissions 'til you are blue in the face, but you are ignoring the fact that all this gas will get burnt at the end of the day."

According to Hughes, B.C. has 34.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves in the bank.

But Energy Minister Rich Coleman is counting on 1365.4 tcf of undiscovered gas to be discovered, and recovered, to cover government-supported LNG projects, commitments to North America and future generations.

The government's math does not add up, says Hughes.

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for two decades and is a contributing editor to The Tyee.

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