Eoin Madden: The true cost of the Woodfibre LNG plant in Squamish

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about what climate change will eventually mean for you or your neighbours. But coastal towns like Squamish are acutely exposed to the costs of climate change: a federal government report states that B.C.’s timber losses could range from $500 million to $3 billion, and that flooding protection costs would rise to more than $2,000 per person by 2050.

We’re already seeing the effects of climate change appear in our home insurance policies, with increasing costs for water damage coverage. Rising sea levels will seriously impact low lying areas. And Howe Sound is in the danger zone when it comes to ocean acidification, a phenomenon driven by climate change.

Into this sorry situation steps Woodfibre LNG, with its proposal to construct a new gas liquefaction plant on the site of an old pulp mill in Squamish. Woodfibre is just one of many gas plants proposed for our west coast, and in order to feed these plants, thousands of new gas wells would need to be drilled in northeast B.C. This gas will then be shipped to Asia.

In B.C., nine out of 10 gas wells extract gas using the dangerous method of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. Fracking releases large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that has a much greater impact on our climate than any other gas. In short, fracking drives climate change. It is also a massive freshwater user.

The arguments in favour of the Woodfibre project hinge on the expected commercial tax income for the District of Squamish, as well as the much-lauded job creation: 600 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs, we are told.

What support there is for the project is based on these numbers, and on references to the closure of the pulp mill on the site of which the proposed terminal is to be located. But many Squamish residents recognize the conflict between this proposal and the area’s flourishing outdoor economy.

The population of Squamish has grown by more than 14 percent in the last decade, with an influx of relatively young people drawn by the beautiful surroundings of Howe Sound. A new breed of job creators arrived in that rush: the decision by online mountain bike retailer PinkBike to relocate its head office here is just one example of the type of outdoor-focused employer Squamish has attracted. It is fast becoming renowned as a rock-climbing and mountain biking mecca.

The economic value of maintaining a clean, outdoor-focused image is often undervalued in B.C. A recent SFU study showed that hikers, cyclists, kayakers and other non-motorized recreationists contribute billions to B.C.’s economy every year, and Squamish is perfectly poised to capitalize on this recreation bonanza. Looking at climbing alone, a 2008 report showed $25 million in direct economic impact to Squamish annually, with the potential to grow to $75 million by 2018.

When I’m not working to raise awareness about climate change, I run. I dream of one day being able to complete the Squamish 50, one of North America’s most respected and loved ultra-marathon trail runs. It’s not just the challenge of running 50 kilometres across forest trails and along rocky cliff faces that draws the crowds: the race is just one part of an entire trail running festival which takes place annually. The festival’s organizers rightly state that Squamish is a rare piece of trail paradise.

This August, racers will arrive in town willing to pay good money for food, accommodation, and refreshments. Combined with the ubiquitous mountain bikers, hikers, and climbers who will be heading for other trails that weekend, the event represents a sizeable income-generator. It is with a sinking feeling that I have to ask myself: what happens if Woodfibre LNG is built? How does a huge gas plant on the town’s doorstep affect its reputation as the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada”?

Today’s Squamish is a success story. It has taken advantage of its naturally abundant setting and has proven to us all that it’s possible to create a thriving economy without contributing greatly to climate change. Whether it’s the heavy cost of climate change for everyone, or the potential cost of outdoor enthusiasts turned off by the presence of a huge industrial plant, Woodfibre LNG represents a major step backwards for the new economy of Squamish.

Comments (13) Add New Comment
Mark
BC is a resource based province. Like it or not, this is the truth. It has always been this way. Vancouver is home to more natural resources companies than anywhere else in the world. There are no headquarters, not a lot of high paying jobs. If the condo boom slows down, it will be a major drag on the economy.

BC, and especially metro Vancouver boxed itself in a place of high living costs and lower incomes than other major cities, and statistics show that age growth will seriously lag behind for the future.

I don't think that the plant will destroy Squamish as a good place for recreation. It is located down in the inlet, and most trails are up on the mountain.
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Meathead

Squamish was, and is, not a land of just picnics and waterfalls.

Woodfibre is remediating and improving a long known mill site including the existing gas line, ship port and Hydro lines. People still need to able to work to enjoy their recreational activities, you know. And Squamish can tax it like crazy back into the community.

I don't understand why the climate alarm is so focused on a "No development at all costs!" mentality. Surely they must know this project is less than a blip even by regional standards and wouldn't show a pixel on the World graph. While fracking is the dangerous unknown, existing LNG from alternate and waste sources is still the majority of sources. LNG overall is the cleanest carbon fuel available, much more than conventional and certainly oilsand extraction.

I fail to see how a project like this would ruin the overall recreational industry in Squamish without actually providing an overall benefit to the community at large. Then if that community can benefit, so can it's climate action supporters.



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Gordon
1. How will an LNG plant on the far, inaccessable side of Howe Side affect the area's recreation potential? You haven't spelled that out. People might see it on the drive up but they certainly can not see it while on the trails.
Forest for the trees, eh?

2. Woodfibre spewed tons of effluent into the atmosphere every day during the formative decades of Whistler. Do you think anybody decided not to go to Whistler or stop in Squamish during those years because of that? Nobody hiked or climbed the Chief? Nobody skied or hiked into Garibaldi Park or Lake Lovely Water because, OMG! There were industrial activities in the area?

CO2 production and climate change are the compelling, logical arguements against natural gas production and exports. Anything else is just grasping at straws.
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Forest
Excellent article. And Meathead, those many millions of us who are focused on climate change have never advocated "no development at all costs". In fact, we've been asking for green energy development for decades now. It's just that the Feds and this province has long been stuck in the fossil age, thanks to their well-healed backers.
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David Spiker
Not very factual jounalism. Am very curious how fracking equals climate change. Please let us know what and how carbon is emitted from the fracking process? Terrible us vs. them, good vs. bad, story harkening back to a war in the woods or NIMBY philosphy.
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Troy
Terrible article, not factual, many mistruths, and a total misrepresentation of the real cause behind climate change.
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Paul Watt
After a century as an industrial dumping ground, Howe Sound has finally begun to recover it's marine life. The noise pollution from the LNG compression, happening off shore on an enormous barge, will have effects on the fish, whales and dolphins that are finally returning. Noise levels in most LNG plants exceed 125 dB at low frequencies that travel a long way through water.
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Curious
Observation ... each time the rating (thumbs up or thumbs down) is selected, the opposite rating number automatically changes too! What's up with this Straight.com?
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Miranda Nelson
Hi Curious,

I don't seem to be able to replicate the problem you're having. The buttons are working properly on our end.
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LNG Corporate Welfare
LNG can not be produced viablly commercially without massive Corporate Welfare subsidies from the Government of BC aka you and me.

LNG in Asia (aka mostly China & Japan) is being rapidly sourced at ever lower rates from Russia whichjust announced a $400 Billion LNG Pipeline & Infrastructure project.

THe Russia deal announced a $10 - $11 price per mfc (miilion cubic feet).

BC producers because of the added costs of shipping needs to get around $14 per mfc + just to break even.

Are British Columbians willing to subsidize Big Oil Corporations & foreign Governments to ship LNG to Communist China?

I think not.

Than there are the huge Environmental impacts of C02, Fracking, polluting water basically forever etc etc.

So in summary it's LNG production in BC is a...

- bad Economic investment (even TD Bank's pro Corporate report says so),

- bad for the Environment,

- little long term jobs,

- and we have to pay for it!

What a bad and stupid idea!



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Forest
David Spiker - LNG is considered more pernicious than the tar sands (if that's possible) due to the large amount of methane that extraction releases into the atmosphere. Methane is far more harmful than CO2 when it comes to the warming of the earth's climate, and it's also being released beneath the melting ice caps, thanks to our capacity to ignore the cumulative effects of carbon emissions. And LNG Corporate Welfare is correct in his/her assessment of how Ms.Clark's Grand Plan has fallen to dust. Russia has just signed a major $400 billion with China, to provide gas to that giant nation for 30 years. That deal just put the nail in the coffin of far more expensive BC LNG for China, but knowing this government, I doubt that will stop them from this idiocy.
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Eoin Madden
David Spiker - There are two well known greenhouse gases: methane and carbon dioxide (CO2). Methane is the worst of the two, with a far greater effect on climate than CO2 in the short-term. The fracking process emits massive amounts of methane as fugitive emissions, and if there is more than 4% of the total emitted, its as destructive as coal. Cornell University has been tracking this closely. Here is the expert in a short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXQt1KPVCfc
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Michelle
I have been living in Squamish for 16 years. When I first arrived, this was a scenic, undiscovered industrial community. Since then Woodfiber closed, the scent of the pulp mill has been replaced by the scent of the ocean and the town has been virtually transformed into a thriving, young community filled with active, like minded, environmentally conscious individuals and young families. LNG goes against everything this community has to offer. Tax incentives from LNG are council members short term, unsustainable, money grab that does not reflect the values and interests of this community of the recreational users who chose to vacation here. We have an industry and it's tourism. We don't need LNG. The community, province and Nation that will come out on top is going to be the one that is progressive and courageous enough to finally take a stand and be uncompromising in pursuit of developing sustainable practices in all areas of construction, infrastructure and transportation development. Squamish has the potential to be a Global example of sustainability. Let's have the courage to make it happen!!! I am willing to pay more taxes NOT to have LNG or pipelines in my community or my country. I am willing to pay more to have sustainable initiatives developed to the point that we no longer need fossil fuels and I will back that up with my votes and my dollars.
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