4. The Cleanest LNG in the World

The cleanest LNG in the world is currently produced at two separate facilities located a half world apart: Statoil’s Snøhvit project, on the island of Melkøya in the Norwegian Sea, and the Gorgon plant, on Barrow Island off the western coast of Australia. The latter is a joint venture of Australian subsidiaries of Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, and ExxonMobil.

These two projects boast life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from production, transportation and liquefaction of 0.35 and 0.36 tonnes CO2 equivalent per tonne of LNG, respectively. That is to say, each tonne of LNG produced at Snøhvit and Gorgon releases the equivalent of 0.35 and 0.36 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

No emissions data exists for a “typical” British Columbia LNG plant, as none is yet built. To inform our analysis, we have used engineering data from a pair of facilities that employ—or will employ—technologies currently being discussed by B.C. LNG proponents. Both are in Australia: Woodside Petroleum’s Pluto plant, located on the Burrup Peninsula of the country’s northwest coast, and the Santos-Petronus GLNG project, presently under construction on Curtis Island, off the coast of Gladstone, in Queensland.

Since British Columbia is clearly not Australia, our analysis accounts for differences in underlying operating conditions, including environmental operating conditions (see  “A Cold Climate Advantage?”). The government of British Columbia has recently identified the province’s cooler northern climate as offering a strategic advantage.

With respect to similarities neither Pluto nor Santos-Petronus will process natural gas on site, nor will they capture and store carbon dioxide emissions. Though it is technically possible, none of the current British Columbia LNG proponents plans to capture their carbon pollution and there currently exists no government requirement for them to do so. The Australian facilities also use contemporary technologies: Pluto began liquefying gas in May 2012, while Santos-Petronus is expected to come online in 2015.

For all of the above reasons, we consider the Pluto and Santos-Petronus operations to be a reasonable approximation of a typical British Columbia LNG plant.

Given this, without additional policy or regulations, a standard British Columbia plant will produce life cycle greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 0.96 tonne of carbon per tonne of LNG produced. In translation, this means that the atmospheric cost of one tonne of fuel produced in an off-the-shelf British Columbia LNG plant will be roughly one tonne of carbon pollution—almost three times produced in the globally leading facilities in Norway and Australia.

If British Columbia were truly to produce the cleanest LNG in the world with respect to life cycle carbon pollution, government and industry would need to find ways to close the 0.61 tonne emissions gap between the world-leading plants and the standard facilities currently on the table.

This will be challenging, because both the Snøhvit and Gorgon facilities draw directly from undersea natural gas deposits, efficiently produce, process and liquefy that gas in a centralized facility, and incorporate carbon capture and storage. Plant operators capture and sequester underground greenhouse gas emissions that would ordinarily be vented to the atmosphere during processing.

British Columbia LNG producers will be sourcing at least a portion of their gas from unconventional deposits that contain more carbon dioxide. Project proponents would need to pipe the gas across the province, and process and liquefy it at different locations. Without mitigation measures, this will increase the carbon footprint of the final product.