Enjoying the record heat and endless sunshine? You gotta love global warming.
It is a phenomenon that the Christy Clark government is determined to make worse in its zeal to expedite LNG investment at any cost.
There will be high fives galore in corporate boardrooms around the world when Bill 30 is enshrined into law later this week. The government will feel very proud of itself for putting in place the Petronas precedent.
As I wrote in these pages last week, Christy Clark’s Boon to Big Oil is an unbelievable gift to Big Oil that will lock in ridiculously low LNG tax rates and lucrative LNG tax credits for 25 years. It is a terrible precedent that will transfer so many risks and costs from the world’s wealthiest state oil companies to B.C. taxpayers.
If you welcome global warming, you will be thrilled by this deal that will make it effectively impossible for the province to properly price LNG-specific carbon emissions.
If you believe that government should have no business regulating Big Business in respect of such “trivial” matters as reducing greenhouse gases, protecting fish and wildlife, conserving B.C.’s valuable water resources, assuring air quality, or protecting fragile ecosystems, then you will regard Bill 30 as a triumph.
The B.C. Liberals know that the summer is so much brighter when we behold the harsh light of reality through rose coloured glasses. It is the best time for legislative fun and games that are about as exciting for most people to watch as a potato sack race with a predetermined outcome. Here’s a hint: the legislators all fall down in their rush to cross the finish line.
Bill 30 will effectively cede provincial control over many of the levers of environmental management to the companies that stand to profit from “liberating” British Columbia’s potential in LNG.
The latest revelation is that under the Petronas precedent, LNG operators will be exempt from including so-called “entrained” emissions in meeting their obligations to qualify for government subsidies under the environmental incentive program.
Those emissions, attributable to carbon dioxide that must be removed from natural gas before transporting or converting it to LNG, will simply not count in the government’s criteria for taxpayer-funded subsidies to the big oil companies.
Yet those entrained emissions will account for about six percent of all emissions associated with the Pacific Northwest LNG project, according to the Pembina Institute's Matt Horne.
In essence, by excluding those specific emissions, in addition to emergency emissions, the Clark government has made it easier for LNG operators to qualify for taxpayer-funded subsidies equal to 50-100 percent of the cost of complying with its legislated targets for LNG emissions.
The Pembina Institute estimates that taxpayers will be obliged to shell out some $411 million for the Pacific Northwest LNG project alone over the 25-year agreement with Petronas and its partners.
So much for the Clark government’s specious claim that B.C.’s LNG industry will be the cleanest in the world, or that all LNG operators will be obliged to bear the brunt of the costs to meet its target emission levels. Instead, the government will give LNG operators untold millions of dollars in taxpayer-supported subsidies that, again, will be guaranteed for 25 years under the Petronas precedent.
Big Oil’s new demands
And yet the industry wants more, as we learned on the weekend from B.C. LNG Alliance president David Keane.
Now his Big Oil company paymasters also want to be exempt from paying sales taxes on their proposed plants, arguing that they should qualify as “manufacturing facilities.”
Apparently, they believe that the process of condensing natural gas by cooling it to liquid form at -162o Celsius is tantamount to making it something besides the thing that it always was. The atmosphere will still hold it for all that remains: mostly methane, minus any helium, hydrocarbons, or water that got vented, lost, or extracted along the way.
That methane that gets temporarily liquified through LNG “manufacturing” will still be the same product it always was: a gas that is rapidly contributing to climate change. The second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in Canada.
That “manufactured” methane will not change its unalterable, inconvenient truth. Pound for pound, that methane will remain 25 times greater in its effects on global warming than carbon dioxide, over a 100-year period. It is a gas that we are supposedly trying to reduce from entering our atmosphere, in part, because its lifetime in atmosphere is 12 years.
That is the product that the B.C. LNG Alliance wants to recast as a manufactured commodity.
Far from adding value in the traditional sense, that industry will mostly exist to profit from added environmental and social costs that, if anything, should be fully costed and taxed accordingly, not the opposite.
Not content with paying no LNG tax until all capital costs are recovered and only a pittance thereafter, the industry now demands to be free of paying sales tax. In the name of global competitiveness and “adding value.”
Yet there is a method in its madness.
The industry’s renewed push for a blanket sales tax exemption on LNG is not just aimed at seeking a new gift from the government that has already given so much at taxpayers’ expense. It is also a diversionary tactic to help the Clark government to appear to “stand firm” in the face of industry pressure to pad its pockets, as the legislative debate on Bill 30 winds its way closer to its inevitable conclusion.
The finance minister could not be happier.
It affords him the opportunity to look tough in rejecting the rapacious industry’s demands for a new tax gift that was never seriously in the cards. As if he did not get hosed by the tax concessions he already granted, which go far beyond anything that any other government has offered in trying to lure LNG investment.
As if his B.C. Liberal colleagues had not already sold their souls to Big Oil for an intended partisan advantage. As if they had not already sold out our province, our environment, and our potential to maximize the economic and fiscal value of British Columbia’s precious reserves of natural gas for working families and taxpayers alike.
Big Oil wants more, damn it, without any guarantees imposed on who it hires. Without any conditions imposed on where it builds its component parts for B.C.’s LNG plants. Without any contractual assurances of benefits for Canadian workers or local suppliers.
Ho, hum. These are the halcyon days of summer, when all’s right with the world, except for what’s wrong with it.
Better to lie on our lawn chairs and brood over our thirsty lawns and vegetable gardens, perhaps sipping on a bottle of Nestlé water.
Who wouldn’t be mad as hell that Nestlé Waters only pays $2.25 per million litres for the 300 million litres of fresh water it takes from B.C. each year, to plop into plastic and sell it back to us at about that same price for each litre? Good to know that Christy’s on the case, promising a rate review, after acceding to the political pressure of the nearly 227,000 people who signed the Sum Of Us petition.
It seems it may be possible after all to get the government’s attention if enough people stand up to fight for what is right.
Anyway, on days like this, the planet can go to hell, for our love of petrochemicals and plastic. And the legislators on the Right side of B.C.’s avidity for LNG can do as they will to help it get there faster and more profitably for those who control us all with their money and our resources.
There are beaches to enjoy. Swimming pools aplenty. Oceans of blue above and beyond to carry us away.
Here are some facts to ponder as you are floating upon your back and dreaming of better days to come.
LNG’s impact on water
Picture 22,000 Olympic-size swimming pools strung end-to-end in an unbroken line that runs from Vancouver to Fort Nelson, way up north in B.C., near the Northwest Territories.
Each of those vast pools contains 2.5 million litres of water and is 50 metres in length.
That is how much water would be required each year to drill for the amount of natural gas that the Clark government hopes to exploit in realizing its ultimate LNG “dream” scenario.
It is an amount of water equivalent to some 55 million cubic metres per year, according to the high LNG export case evaluated in David Hughes’s eye-popping study, A Clear Look at LNG.
It is an amount that is equivalent to about half of Vancouver’s total annual water consumption. Not a stretch, considering that the B.C. Oil & Gas Commission approved the use of up to some 86.5 billion litres of surface water alone for oil and gas activities in 2009.
Not to worry, though.
The Commission assures us that the amount of surface water that is actually being used by the oil and gas industry is only a fraction of the amount it has approved for use. And if you think that the gas industry is a water hog, consider that it uses only 42 percent of the amount allotted to the mining and petroleum sector, with the mining industry accounting for the other 58 percent.
Most of that water approved for use by the natural gas sector is used for hydraulic “fracking,” which accounts for about 86 percent of all new wells drilled.
You know, that is the process whereby pressurized water, sand, and chemical additives are injected 2,000-4,500 metres underground to create 500 to 800 foot-long fractures in shale rock formations, thereby “freeing” their “trapped” natural gas to more easily flow to the wellbore. You can read all about its effect on water here.
It is a process that the Wilderness Committee is petitioning to stop in B.C., citing bans and partial bans of the use of hydraulic fracturing in France, Bulgaria, South Africa, Northern Ireland, Ireland, New York state, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Quebec, and Newfoundland, and other jurisdictions.
The critics may quibble over the seismic effects of fracking, which in Fox Creek, Alberta, was ostensibly linked to two earthquakes registering over a 4 magnitude since January. Those events caused the Alberta Energy Regulator to impose a stop work order on fracking activities in the region, as it also imposed new reporting and public safety rules on all operators in relation to seismic activities.
It is not a subject that either the B.C. LNG Alliance or the Clark government is eager to talk about.
The medical community is no more keen on fracking. Certainly not the U.S. Physicians for Social Responsibility.
As one report published in the B.C. Medical Journal on behalf of the Council of Health Promotion notes:
“While additives make up only 2% of the total fluid volume, this can represent 40,000 litres of additives injected per well. The chemicals used are widely variable, and while public disclosure of ingredients is mandatory in BC, proprietary claims and trade secrets are exempt. An analysis of 353 of these chemicals found that more than 75% could have respiratory, gastrointestinal, dermatological, and ocular effects; 40% to 50% could be neuro-, immuno- and nephrotoxic; 37% could be endocrine disruptors, and 25% could be carcinogenic.”
So there. As former Global TV reporter Jas Johal says in his new role shilling for the B.C. LNG Alliance in its endless TV ads: “Now you know.”
To learn more, you may want to look beyond the propaganda posted on that organization’s website, to say nothing of the mainstream media’s coverage of the Petronas precedent. Big Oil pays big bucks for media advertising and dubious media “partnerships” that tend to make a mockery of professional journalism.
You should also know this.
While much of that water used for fracking is drawn from high-saline resources buried deep underground, the surface water used is mostly just good old, fresh water, often sold to the companies for a song by local governments and private landowners.
Each Olympic size pool contains 2.5 million litres of water. A single well in the Horn River basin may require as much as 94 million litres of water, or roughly the equivalent volume of 37 Olympic-size pools.
It is a volume equivalent to almost one-third of the total volume that Nestlé Waters extracts from our province for its bottled water. For each well drilled.
On average, each of those wells also requires some 3,000 truck trips to deliver water for fracking and to remove the resulting waste fluids. If you factor in the oil burned for those trips and its associated emissions, those Horn River gas wells do impose a significant toll on the environment.
The wells drilled in the much larger, three-million hectare Montney play do not require nearly as much water—on average, anywhere from 2.4 million to 3.5 million gallons apiece.
Still, between the two main gas-rich regions in B.C., it will take a lot of water to “liberate” that gas locked deep in the shale.
It would require some 2,100 wells to be drilled each year at the peak drilling rate envisioned by the Clark government’s plans for LNG. In total, some 37,800 new wells could be cumulatively required by 2040 to support the premier’s starry-eyed vision.
That’s a lot of water that will create a lot of wastewater.
Some 50-90 percent of that wastewater may be ultimately recovered. It will either get reinjected deep underground or “treated” for reuse. All of it will be deliberately poisoned. Most of it will never again be available for drinking, for growing food, or for sustaining our natural ecosystems.
Such is the hidden price of LNG in the extra pressure it supposes for natural gas extraction activities.
Other environmental and social impacts of LNG
I haven’t even mentioned the most contentious water impacts issue. Namely, the potential for ground water contamination, surface water contamination, and related impacts on drinking water and aquatic habitats. We have all see the horror stories of tap water set on fire, much of which have been debunked. But that does not change the fact of water contamination that will surely escalate with exponential increases in gas drilling to feed B.C.’s aspirations for LNG exports.
The potential impacts on hydrology are equally concerning in this age of global warming. They place further stresses on forestry, agriculture, and other renewable activities for human needs. Ditto for the impacts of mass drilling on our land base, on biodiversity, and especially on aboriginal rights and title.
Will the industry be obliged to pay for any infringements on the latter that are deemed to be compensable after the government grants its development approvals? Not likely.
It will be taxpayers that will bear that cost burden for any ongoing penalties imposed in relation to infringements of aboriginal rights, treaty rights, and proven title in the new post-Tsilhqot’in decision world.
The Lax Kw'alaams Band has rejected Petronas’s $1-billion offer to buy their support for its Pacific Northwest LNG project. The Gitga'at First Nation has also announced plans to launch a judicial review of the LNG project. It claims it was excluded from the provincial environmental assessment.
Who will pay for any court-imposed costs that might result at some point in respect of the legal challenges that may eventually materialize from those two First Nations? My bet is it won’t be Petronas and its partners. It will be you, me, and all B.C. taxpayers who are obliged to foot the bill.
The fans of LNG may think that all of this is a small price to pay for such an enormous economic opportunity. Whatever. It certainly is an unrecognized cost that is nowhere properly factored into the government’s cost-benefit appraisals of LNG, if it has even done such assessments.
What of that fledgling industry’s likely impact on greenhouse gas emissions?
The Pembina Institute has also done the math on that. It calculates that even a lower end LNG development scenario would produce an additional 73 million tonnes of carbon pollution per year by 2020.
Fancy this as you stare up into the blue sky in B.C.’s record-blistering heat.
With those added greenhouse gas emissions, it will be virtually impossible for British Columbia to meet its legislated emissions reduction targets.
The 59 million tonnes of carbon we currently emit province-wide will not shrink to the 43 million tonne target that is legally required. Instead, our annual provincial carbon emissions will rise to 137 million tonnes, if all goes “swimmingly well”, as per the Clark government’s ultimate pipe dreams for LNG.
If its “dream scenario” were ever realized, by 2020, B.C.'s LNG plants would create about three-quarters as much carbon pollution as Alberta’s oilsands. Perhaps that is what the B.C. LNG Alliance had in mind when it begged to be defined as a “manufacturing industry.”
For it will be an important cog in the wheel of the planet’s inexorable production of unwanted greenhouse gases that would never see the light of day if they were left locked in the ground where they should be.
It is a condition that will not be fundamentally improved by the government’s deceptive carbon intensity targets. Nor will the reality of those added GHGs be altered by the government’s duplicitous claims that B.C.’s new LNG exports will somehow reduce global carbon emissions by displacing dirtier forms of energy in Asia.
In a world that is already vastly oversupplied by LNG, any new gas added to that supply would only add to the planet’s avoidable GHG pressures. It is simply not credible to claim that shipping some 18 trillion cubic feet of LNG over the next 20-25 years is doing our global environment any favours.
Moreover, as David Hughes has forcefully argued, citing a study conducted by the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory, there is new reason to doubt that LNG is necessarily a cleaner form of fossil fuel than even thermal coal might be.
That is, depending on the technologies that are deployed in each instance, the upstream methane leakage assumptions that are considered, and on the life-cycle emissions that are counted. Coal is certainly not the answer to the world’s energy challenges, but neither is LNG.
The last thing we should be doing in B.C. is kidding ourselves that our added contributions to global GHG emissions through increased fossil fuel extraction activities is either environmentally or socially responsible.
Anyone who doubts the reality of global warming might want to read the American Meteorological Society's recently released State of the Climate report. It's a doozy.
It found that the world's atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations once again hit new record levels in 2014, which was also the warmest year on record. Sea surface temperatures, global sea levels, and global upper ocean heat content levels all reached new record highs again in 2014. Canada's national annual average temperature has increased by 1.6° over the past 67 years and five of the 10 warmest years occurred during the last decade.
The findings in this report alone should give us all cause to think twice about the added global impacts of B.C.'s unneeded LNG industry on our warming planet.
Some 25 percent of the gas produced to facilitate LNG exports will be burned in B.C. to power those new plants. That is not necessary or prudent. The Clark government cannot erase the impacts of those power-related emissions by simply exempting them as it has done from the Campbell government’s legal clean energy requirements.
If those LNG plants cannot be built and operated with clean, renewable power, such as other jurisdictions are pursuing, they should at least be obliged to pay the full freight of the costs they will impose on our environment and our province.
What new, additional emissions reductions measures will British Columbians be obliged to accept in their own personal lives in order to partially offset the added pressures created by LNG? What new lower standards will we be forced to accept in greenhouse gas reduction targets that will surely have to be revised if the government’s LNG vision ever fully comes to pass?
LNG risks to public safety
On top of all that, the LNG opportunity also carries with it all sorts of risks to public safety that beg to be considered. Especially as they effect the several communities in Howe Sound that have all passed resolutions urging the government not to allow LNG tankers down that environmentally sensitive corridor, thereby also essentially opposing the proposed Woodfibre LNG project.
The thousands of people living adjacent to the proposed WesPac Tilbury Marine Jetty Project and to Fortis B.C.’s Tilbury LNG Expansion Project might also want to pay close attention.
The thing is, an LNG tanker explosion caused by either an accident or by a terrorist strike could be utterly catastrophic to hundreds or even thousands of people living in close proximity to such tanker traffic. Yes, it seems unlikely and precautions will be taken.
But there is a reason that no major city in North America except Boston has an LNG facility nestled so near to its populace. As this story from Boston Magazine so succinctly explains, the terrorist threat from an attack on LNG tankers and terminals is too real to be ignored or discounted.
Why? This excerpt from that story may help paint a picture:
“LNG immediately begins to evaporate when it spills. A vapor cloud forms and grows, and you hope there’s no spark. Even with a spark, only the cloud’s edges, where 5 to 15 percent of the air is LNG, can ignite. Yet if that part catches fire, the whole thing burns.
In an attack, a spark would probably be present as the LNG began to spill, so a fire would start right away. Because the LNG hits the water faster than it all can evaporate, it would form a pool on top of the water. As more spilled, the pool — and the fire — would grow.
The LNG would continue feeding the blaze (imagine the fire being attached to the pool) until all the fuel evaporated and burned off, which could take anywhere from three to forty minutes. By then, anything within reach could have ignited and set off other fires.”
There is a reason that Boston has tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to rid itself of its local LNG plant.
Heck, even the Stephen Harper government stands officially opposed to the proposed Downeast LNG project that its backers hope to build up the Atlantic coast, in Robbinston, Maine, near the Bay of Fundy.
What is the Conservatives’ position on that project? To quote Canada’s U.S. ambassador, Gary Doer, “Canada continues to have serious concerns with the proposal to construct an LNG terminal on the Maine side of Passamaquoddy Bay. These concerns relate to the environmental, navigational and safety risks as well as the adverse economic consequences arising from the passage of LNG tankers through Head Water Passage, New Brunswick, which the Government of Canada opposes.”
What makes Tilbury Island, Woodfibre, or for that matter, Pacific Northwest LNG any different? We should know that.
What security precautions will be put in place to protect our citizens and who will pay that cost? The Coast Guard? Surely not the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The RCMP, perhaps? Or is no one really now giving that legitimate risk to human safety the level of concern, costing consideration, and funding scrutiny that should be warranted?
The proposed Woodfibre LNG Project tanker route extends from the top of Howe Sound past the shores of West Vancouver. Tens of thousands of people who live along that route would fall within the hazard zones that would apply if the U.S. risk-assessment criteria were adopted. Many more people live within spitting distance of the proposed Tilbury Island project and its expected tanker traffic.
How can our governments be so confident that they are in the public interest and pose an acceptable risk to public safety, an acceptable impact on marine habitat and on the broader environment? Perhaps the environmental assessment processes now underway will clarify that, although I am not holding my breath.
These are only some of the more “delightful” concerns about LNG that you might dare to ruminate about while the Clark government takes your unquestioning support for its LNG vision for granted.
My purpose is not to convince you that LNG is not worth pursuing, for all of its risks and unaddressed costs. Although any facts considered in isolation, like the ones above, tend to make their own case. Which is exactly what the Clark government is trying to do with its lopsided portrayal of LNG and through its incessant cheerleading and its reckless gift to Big Oil via Bill 30.
The mainstream media offers little opportunity for more considered arguments of LNG on either side of the issue. The Georgia Straight and other alternative media sources are thankfully doing their best to remedy that problem by publishing extensive critiques like this and many of the others I have referenced above.
But the hard work is up to you, the readers who clearly care enough to get properly informed and to go the next step of making your voices heard.
Soon enough the summer of your discontent will be over, as the Clark government’s fall from public grace continues with its incompetent mishandling of the entire LNG file.