Prince Rupert LNG terminal could become largest source of GHG emissions in Canada, environmental group warns

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      An environmental organization has called attention to new numbers for potential air pollution associated with the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal proposed for Lelu Island near Prince Rupert.

      According to Matt Horne, the Pembina Institute’s associate regional director for B.C, the development could come to be responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than any other industrial project in the country.

      “The low end of the range puts it at number three in Canada and at the top end of the range we put it at number one,” Horne told the Straight.

      Pacific NorthWest LNG is proposed by an international consortium led by Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas. Among more than a dozen LNG projects in various stages of discussion for B.C., it is widely considered to be the closest to breaking ground. The company has said its final commitment hinges on the province approving the project and on a positive environmental assessment from the Canadian government.

      It’s at that stage of environmental review that the Pembina Institute’s new numbers threaten to complicate matters.

      If Pacific NorthWest LNG goes ahead, the Pembina Institute warns, it could account for between 29 and 35 percent of B.C.’s total emissions allowed under the terms of a reduction target set for 2030, according to a March 11 letter Horne sent to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

      By 2050, the LNG terminal could account for between 88 and 108 percent of the province’s total greenhouse-gas emissions. (This estimate drops to between 75 and 87 percent if you attribute 25 percent of the project’s emissions to sources in Alberta.)

      B.C. has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to 40 percent below 2007 levels by 2030 and to 80 percent below 2007 levels by 2050.

      In a telephone interview, Horne said the new numbers for Pacific NorthWest LNG are based on calculations that take upstream greenhouse-gas emissions into account. He argued that upstream emissions should be included for more accurate measurements because they include sources previously left out of assessments—for example, methane that escapes from gas wells or fracking infrastructure and pipelines.

      Repeated interview requests emailed to Pacific NorthWest LNG were not returned.

      Horne noted that including upstream emissions follows a requirement that federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced on January 27.

      He acknowledged that the relative comparison of emissions among major industrial projects is imperfect, given that not all calculations include upstream emissions. But Horne said Pembina has done rough math for similarly large projects and estimates that Pacific NorthWest LNG will remain among the country's top-three polluters even when upstream emissions for other projects are taken into account. (One possible exception is Suncor's oilsands facility in Alberta.)

      Horn also noted that in the interim, this new system could result in some emissions counted twice; for example, once in an environmental assessment for an LNG terminal and then again in a separate assessment for a gas-processing plant supplying that terminal.

      "From my perspective, it makes sense to include the upstream emissions during the assessment of the LNG terminals," Horne said. "About two-thirds of the carbon pollution can come from the upstream emissions, so just looking at the LNG terminal provides a very limited picture of the impacts."

      But Horne maintained that when you include upstream emissions in estimates for Pacific NorthWest LNG, the project is revealed as potentially one of the largest sources of greenhouse-gas emissions in Canada.

      Horne added Pembina doesn’t necessarily suggest this means the project should be axed. He recommended requiring more stringent requirements for LNG projects in B.C. to incorporate the most advanced—but also the most expensive—technologies available to limit emissions from LNG developments.

      “We shouldn’t be proceeding with any of these projects until we have provincial and federal plans that get on track for the emissions reductions we’ve agreed to,” Horne said.

      According to Bloomberg News, McKenna is preparing to send Pacific NorthWest LNG to the federal cabinet for review on account of the project's "significant environmental impact". That will likely mean further delays.

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