The burning question about LNG
By Bill Phillips
There is no doubt, burning natural gas is less harmful to the environment than burning coal.
We hear it from Premier Christy Clark all the time, even though last week’s Throne Speech toned down the rhetoric about B.C.’s ‘burgeoning’ liquefied natural gas industry. Clark, however, kept up the rah-rahs with her “quitters don’t win” speech (wasn’t that from some sports movie?).
Perhaps even more concerning news for the LNG industry last week was the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s (CEAA) report on Northwest LNG’s proposed plant at Lelu Island.
Almost overlooked in the news coverage of the report, was the revelation that the $11-billion plant at Prince Rupert, and others like it, aren’t quite as environmentally friendly as Clark would like us to believe.
“Total land and marine-based greenhouse gas emissions at full build-out would be 5.28 million tonnes CO2 per year,” reads the CEAA report. “Most emissions are land-based and generated by the compressor drivers for LNG production (4.25 million tonnes CO2 per year).”
Unless you’re a scientist, it’s hard to know whether that’s good or bad.
Then the report puts things in perspective: “The proponent concluded that the project would increase greenhouse gas emissions for the Province of B.C. by 8.5 per cent.”
Granted, we’ll be lucky if one plant gets off the ground anytime soon, but it wasn’t too long ago Clark was drooling over the prospect of having five or more LNG plants coming online in B.C.
Five plants would increase the province’s greenhouse gas emissions by 42.5 per cent. That’s a huge increase in our CO2 emissions … done in the name of being green. While that is a substantial increase, globally, it’s a drop in the bucket. The CEAA report says the Pacific Northwest plant would increase Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by .075 and globally, 0.015 per cent.
Even so, it’s still a big increase for B.C. In addition, just because we won’t make a significant blip globally, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing our part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We never seem to hear any plans about how B.C. will mitigate such an increase, given Liberals’ commitment to carbon neutrality.
It should also be “noted that Canada has set a 17 per cent reduction target for Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels to be achieved by 2020.”
However, the rationale for developing LNG, does make sense. If all those LNG plants result in the elimination of even some of the coal-fired power plants in China, the world will be a better place. The jury’s still out on how much though. The Centre for Liquefied Natural Gas in the U.S. says “existing domestic coal power plants produce two-and-a-half times more emissions on a lifecycle basis than that of LNG.”
The Environmental Research Web, however, isn’t as enamoured saying research shows “that, in general, natural gas produces less short-term climate change than coal only if there is little methane leakage associated with its extraction and if the efficiency of generating the electricity is high.”
It’s safe to say that burning LNG is less harmful to the global environment than coal but it’s not a long-term solution to climate change.
Clark and the Liberals keep touting that LNG is a green industry. It isn’t, but it’s better than the other fossil fuel we’re using.
We should be looking at LNG as a transition not a solution. Think of it like a heroin addict going on methadone … still not good for you, but it’s better than our self-destructive ways of old.
But, we still need to get clean.
Bill Phillips is a freelance columnist living in Prince George. He was the winner of the 2009 Best Editorial award at the British Columbia/Yukon Community Newspaper Association’s Ma Murray awards, in 2007 he won the association’s Best Columnist award. In 2004, he placed third in the Canadian Community Newspaper best columnist category and, in 2003, placed second. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org