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Contradicting BC premier, shale gas calculated to be 'dirty' as coal

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced on Thursday that natural gas is a "clean energy" if used to develop and ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia.

"The reason we want to create this exception for LNG is because in creating LNG and shipping it to places like China, we are diminishing their dependence on coal power and other dirty sources of power," Clark said to reporters after her speech. "So from a global perspective it does a great deal to try and reduce green-house-gas emissions and help us fight climate change."

But experts have calculated that "fracked" shale gas of the sort that B.C. produces has a large greenhouse emissions footprint -- as big as coal's, even.

Those findings were reported by Andrew Nikiforuk in a July 7, 2011, Tyee piece.

Nikiforuk cites a "myth buster from Cornell University. The ecologist Robert Howarth crunched some numbers and concluded that methane leaks and venting from shale gas wells (3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of production or twice as much as conventional gas) made the resource's carbon footprint 20 per cent to 100 per cent greater than coal over a 20-year period. (Methane has a 72 to 105 times greater impact than CO2 over a 20-year timeframe, but only a 25 to 33 times greater impact over a 100 year timeframe.)

"Howarth concluded that a lot the methane burped into the atmosphere during flow-back from fracking fluids and well completion. Substituting shale gas for coal or oil, he concluded, "may not have the desired effect of mitigating climate warming.

Nikiforuk goes on to write that B.C. "claims vast reserves of shale gas, but many sources such as the Horn River Basin contain up to 12 per cent CO2. (That's about six times dirtier than conventional gas.) Venting the climate warmer to the atmosphere…will acidify the ocean, unsettle the climate…and kill the province's climate change strategy.

"A 2010 study by Mark Jaccard and Brad Griffin for the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions concluded that adding 4 million tonnes (MT) a year to the province's GHG inventory, at time when the province needs to subtract millions of tonnes, means 'that the B.C. government will sustain a 20-year Canadian climate policy tradition -- failure to meet its GHG emission targets.'"

Premier Clark said B.C. will use natural gas to generate electricity needed to produce Asia-bound liquefied natural gas. The process will demand as much as four times the electricity consumed by the province's largest city, Vancouver.

David Beers is editor of The Tyee

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