We’ve been hearing it for the better part of two years.
Again and again, in interviews and speeches from Delta to Fort Nelson, to Japan and Washington, D.C., and all points between, British Columbia’s Premier has assured constituents and prospective customers that the government’s proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry will be the “cleanest in the world.”
Last year, the government put some specifics to that promise by clarifying that the planned industry will produce a fuel with “lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than anywhere else.” In doing so, Victoria pledged to address greenhouse gas pollution across the entire span of LNG production — from the wellheads in the gas fields, to the processing plants in the north, down to the chiller plants in Kitimat that are now at the centre of a growing concern over air quality.
It was a calculated strategy to build public support for a new fossil fuel industry, and it worked.
According to new polling we released last week, an overwhelming majority of British Columbians now expects the LNG industry to deliver a product that is the cleanest in the world with respect to carbon pollution — even if doing so means the gas industry produces less of the fuel. A full 90 per cent of those polled said that it was important that British Columbia produce the cleanest LNG in the world.
Of course, such bragging rights don’t come easy; you have to earn them. And the industry has a bit of work ahead. Our recent report, The Cleanest LNG in the World?, concludes that under current conditions an off-the-shelf LNG plant — the kind that B.C.’s gas industry is now proposing — will crank out a product three times more polluting than that produced in world-leading facilities.
The good news is that the government can meet its promised gold standard by incentivizing and mandating industry to embrace a range of solutions proven to slash climate pollution up and down the chain of LNG production.
Unfortunately, the government now appears to be backpedalling on its commitment. Earlier this month, the Premier attempted to redefine what it means to produce the world’s cleanest LNG. In essence, she said that LNG’s carbon footprint begins and ends at the plant fence line in Kitimat or Prince Rupert. Gone was any talk of addressing the fuel’s full carbon footprint.
And last week, the Energy and Mines Minister stated that, while his government hasn’t made a final decision on how any LNG plants will be powered, it has tentatively given a green light to the industry to burn natural gas to power their energy-hungry compressors.
Unfortunately, while this arrangement might please the gas sector, it wasn’t the deal that the government made with British Columbians. To shrink the footprint of LNG to world-leading levels, the industry must use electrically powered compressors that run on a combination of renewable energy and efficient natural gas.
Our polling confirms that fully 91 per cent of British Columbians feel it is either “very important” or “somewhat important” that the proposed plants maximize their use of renewable energy.
If it sounds like we’re splitting hairs, consider that — by ignoring LNG’s upstream emissions, as the Premier would now prefer — for the three initial LNG plants proposed for Kitimat, we’re talking about an extra 17 million tonnes of climate pollution that would enter the atmosphere each year. This is roughly the equivalent annual carbon output of the city of Calgary.
Ideally, we would not be developing LNG at all, and instead continue shifting to a clean energy economy. Our government needs to make British Columbia a solutions leader. But if the Victoria is to develop this new industry, it must uphold its promise to its citizens to do so with the smallest possible impact to ecosystems, communities, other sectors, and the climate.
This is not just about making good on your commitments. It’s about playing fast and loose with the social contract that the government has made with the people. We have seen in the past what happens when elected leaders have pulled a bait-and-switch on their citizens. It doesn’t often end well.
If our province is to create a new fossil fuel industry, and build and retain the confidence of prospective investors and customers, then it must stick to its commitment to do it right. Proven, reliable solutions exist — solutions that are already being used in world-leading operations elsewhere.
British Columbians deserve, have been promised and — as our polling suggests — expect nothing less.
Merran Smith is the director of Clean Energy Canada at Tides Canada.
This article first appeared in The Vancouver Sun.