British Columbia’s NDP government is expressing doubts about growing the province’s liquefied natural gas industry while the BC Liberal Opposition wants more LNG projects approved faster.
With two proposals waiting for decisions from the government and a third close to entering the environmental assessment process, B.C. is at a pivotal moment and weighing the economic promise of LNG against the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
So far the government led by Premier David Eby, who has been in the job a little more than three months, appears to lack enthusiasm for expanding the industry, even as Indigenous-led projects are being pitched as key to economic reconciliation.
In responding to a question from The Tyee about LNG proposals and carbon emissions, Eby shifted to talking about the need to move the province into a clean energy future.
“We're going to be recognizing that there is, ultimately, for fossil fuels a movement internationally away from them to respond to carbon pollution and towards innovative technologies like hydrogen and better use of firm electricity, hydro resources,” said Eby.
“These are big advantages for B.C.,” he added. “We're going to be doing everything we can to take advantage of those trends. We're building an economy not just for today, but also for the future as well.”
A key condition for any additional LNG projects remains that they fit within the CleanBC plan that sets targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Eby said. “That hasn't changed. We're going to continue to work with project proponents to make sure that they're within our carbon budgets and that's critically important work for us to do.”
A decade ago there were some 20 LNG facilities proposed for B.C. and then-premier Christy Clark’s BC Liberal government heavily promoted the industry’s possibilities, promising tens of thousands of jobs, $100 billion in revenue and a debt-free province.
Today there is one facility under construction in B.C., the first phase of LNG Canada’s project near Kitimat. Phase two already has approval from the province, though the owners are yet to announce a final investment decision.
Two more projects are waiting for decisions from the provincial and federal governments. One is the majority Haisla-owned Cedar project in Kitimat. The other is the Tilbury Pacific Marine Jetty at FortisBC’s storage facility in Delta, a joint project with Seaspan that will allow for the export of LNG.
A third project, Ksi Lisims LNG, is proposed for a site the Nisga’a Nation owns near Gingolx in the northwest of the province and is waiting for a decision from the chief assessment officer whether its ready to proceed through the provincial process.
The BC Liberals argue the projects should all go ahead as soon as possible.
“They absolutely should because I think it’s important to recognize that we are global citizens,” said BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon. “We have an obligation to do our bit to help the world transition from dirty power, like coal-fired power in India and China and to a lesser degree in Japan, onto LNG which would reduce emissions from those jurisdictions by up to 50 per cent.”
The B.C. government is wrong to focus on meeting its targets for reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions, Falcon said. “We could shut down the entire province of British Columbia and it would represent a couple days worth of emissions out of Asia, so we have to be smart about this.”
In the legislature last week Skeena MLA Ellis Ross criticized the lack of a decision on the Cedar LNG project, which he called “one of the largest First Nations–led infrastructure projects in Canadian history” and said it could create thousands of jobs.
“Under this premier, the project has been trapped in political purgatory since last November,” Ross said. “The premier is afraid to even talk about it. He's ashamed of our natural resources and LNG.”
Michael Lee, the MLA for Vancouver-Langara, said the Tilbury LNG proposal that the Musqueam Indian Band owns a share in is also overdue for a decision. “The delays and lack of support only further demonstrates this government's failure to move forward with economic reconciliation,” Lee said.
He accused the government of siding with “extremists” opposed to LNG over the interests of the Haisla Nation and the Musqueam Indian Band.
Responding for the government, Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman noted that he was limited in what he could say about specific projects while they are under consideration.
“My colleagues and I are proceeding in a respectful, thorough manner to make the decisions that are before us,” he said. “In making those decisions, we consider environmental impacts, we consider our commitments, we consider economic reconciliation and we consider the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”
Eby called the proposed projects “important,” but said they raise challenging questions for people in the province, even if the opposition pretends the matter is simple.
“British Columbians are seized with the issue of climate change,” Eby said, mentioning concerns about smoky summers, wildfire damage to forests, floods and the heat dome. “LNG is, let's be frank, a fossil fuel that contributes in part to global climate change.”
He referenced the CleanBC plan and the need for projects to fit within the targets it sets, as well as the recent agreement signed with the Blueberry River First Nations that emphasized protecting and restoring land while ensuring any future development happens in partnership.
“These are complex issues,” Eby said. “We'll work closely with nations on economic development. We'll work closely with fossil fuel producers around LNG to ensure that we're hitting our carbon targets.” At the same time, he said, everyone needs to recognize that the world is quickly moving away from using fossil fuels.
The CleanBC plan includes a legislated goal of a 40 per cent drop below 2007 levels by 2030, with deeper cuts by 2040 and 2050.
The government missed a previous goal of a 33 per cent reduction by 2020, with emissions instead remaining more or less unchanged from 2007 levels, and critics are warning it is unlikely to meet it’s 2025 or 2030 goals without doing more than what’s set out in CleanBC.
During a media availability Eby responded to a question from The Tyee about economic reconciliation by saying that any major project on the land now requires First Nations participation.
“When you see us move forward on any file related to resources and land, we will be doing so in partnership with First Nations,” Eby said. “My communication to industry proponents is that they also need to do that work as well. We will support them in doing that work.”
In an interview minister Heyman dismissed the BC Liberal charge that the government is undermining economic reconciliation. “I think that’s house theatrics,” he said. “I don’t think reconciliation involves ignoring all of the full range of issues that go into an environmental assessment.”
In making a decision on any project the government has to take into account the interests of all of the rights and title holders in an area, as well as those directly involved in the proposal, said Heyman.
“We also shouldn’t make decisions that don’t take account of overall impacts that may well extend beyond the territory or jurisdiction of any single nation,” he said.
The government has been acting on reconciliation throughout the province, Heyman added, including with changes to the forestry sector, agreements on mining projects and engaging directly with First Nations to assess projects.
“These are all important aspects of the hard daily slogging work of economic reconciliation,” he said. “I think economic reconciliation doesn’t live or die on a single project or a single decision. I think it’s a judgment of how every day, every week, every month our government engages with Indigenous nations and makes them partners in economic development and ensures that they benefit from economic development.”
BC Green Party Leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau said the government’s “signals are certainly mixed” on new LNG approvals, despite recently announcing it was upping funding for climate-related weather events.
“On one hand, you have Premier Eby indicating before he became premier that he understood that we cannot build more fossil fuel infrastructure and meet our climate targets,” she said. “Then on the other hand, you get the statements from him and from ministers that new projects will be approved if they meet our climate targets.”
Even just the two phases of the LNG Canada facility will make it impossible for the province to meet its climate targets, Furstenau said. “When we have three or four other LNG projects awaiting approval, we basically choose a future for British Columbia that is out of step with the rest of the world.”
The province needs to transition both energy production and its own economy away from fossil fuels quickly, she said. “You need to choose the future you want to invest in, and then you need to invest in that future and it needs to be a clean energy future.”
That kind of thinking has become mainstream, Furstenau added, with even the International Energy Agency indicating that the global transition away from fossil fuels has to be made as fast as possible.
“For this to be painted by the BC Liberals as a kind of radical position to be taking really tells us a lot about them right now,” she said. “This is a form of climate change denial, to suggest that we can continue to build more LNG, more fossil fuel infrastructure, increase the level of methane that comes from fracking, increase the damages to water and environment that comes from fracking.”
When it comes to Indigenous participation in the economy, Furstenau said, the province needs to make conservation funding available and allow for opportunities to invest in clean energy and a sustainable future.
“When the only options on the table are either oil and gas or intensive industrial logging, those are the outcomes that we're going to get,” she said adding there need to be options available to First Nations that move beyond the unsustainable extractive economy.