With a provincial election looming, it’s time for a reality check on Premier Christy Clark’s much-ballyhooed efforts to turn B.C. into an international kingpin in liquefied-natural-gas exports.
Here are some of the claims in the government's cheery strategy document for what's being called B.C.'s newest industry:
• Over $20 billion in new investment
• Up to 9,000 new construction jobs
• 800 long-term jobs
• Over $1 billion in additional revenue to government
The B.C. Liberal government has forecast that Asian customers will pay 2.5 times the North American price for natural gas, notwithstanding bountiful supplies in Russia and the Arab world.
If this were to materialize, the province could expect windfall royalty revenue. The anticipated Asian price is predicated on a relationship of oil prices to natural-gas prices, which existed for many years in North America.
However an explosion of new drilling techniques, including fracking, has sharply increased the supply of North American natural gas. This has caused a crash in prices and shattered the historic link with oil.
As reporter Scott Simpson pointed out earlier this week in the Vancouver Sun, Clark’s rosy view wasn’t shared by energy experts attending a convention in Vancouver.
According to Simpson’s story, U.K.-based energy expert Peter Hughes expects the oil-to-gas-price relationship to collapse in Asia, just as it has in Europe.
In February, the Globe and Mail quoted different pricing concerns from Betsy Spomer, senior vice-president of global business development with BG Group PLC.
She told the Globe that B.C. would need to generate $14 to $15 per British thermal unit to justify construction of liquefied-natural-gas plants on B.C.’s northwest coast. At the time, producers in the Gulf of Mexico were selling at less than $10 per BTU. (BG Group PLC has forecast a doubling in Asian demand for natural gas by 2025.)
Meanwhile, the Financial Post has highlighted shortfalls in B.C.’s electricity grid as a barrier to exporting liquefied natural gas.
It cited a recent TransAlta Corp. estimate that the province will require an additional 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts of electricity generation between 2018 and 2025.
Megawatt, also known as the British Columbia Renewable Energy Blog, estimated last year that each LNG plant will require approximately 4,000 gigawatt hours of energy per year. If four of these projects were built, their requirements would exceed 25 percent of B.C. Hydro's annual production of power.
Meanwhile, Japan—expected to be a prime B.C. customer—is aggressively ramping up its renewable-energy industry after the Fukushima nuclear-power-plant catastrophe.
According to hydrogenfuelnews.com, one of that country’s petroleum giants, JX Nippon Oil & Energy, has formed a partnership with Lixil Group to focus on bringing hydrogen fuel cells to homeowners.
If this catches on, it could be devastating for LNG exporters hoping that Japanese consumers will heat their homes with natural gas.
“Japan’s ENE-FARM is one of the most expansive hydrogen fuel cell networks in the world,” the website states. “After the Fukushima disaster, the ENE-FARM was able to help supply electrical power to several homes in some of Japan’s largest cities, such as Tokyo and Osaka. The fact that the ENE-FARM was able to provide this energy without experiencing any problems of its own has helped fuel cells become much more popular in Japan.”
China is also developing its renewable-energy industry in response to fossil fuels leaving a haze of air pollution over major cities.
If that’s not disturbing enough, south of the border, increased shale-gas production has the potential to make the U.S. self-sufficient in natural gas.
But the B.C. Liberals remain convinced that turning natural gas into liquid and shipping it across the Pacific Ocean will save the B.C. economy and eventually finance a significant share of health and education costs.
Canadian mainstream media outlets are starting to connect the dots and questioning if Clark’s gassy enthusiasm is somewhat overblown.
I expect that when voters go to the polls on May 14, many will conclude that Clark's energy-export forecasts are full of hot air, and they'll toss her and many other B.C. Liberals out of office.