Think of B.C.’s climate change reduction targets like a bathtub full of water that must have 40% drained by 2030, and 80% by 2050.
But while it is draining this tub, the B.C. government would also add 10% more water to it with a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant. Or, if BC Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver is right, it would add 23% more.
That’s the challenge the $40 billion LNG Canada project poses for the B.C. government in meeting its climate change targets.
If it is to meet its reduction targets, the government must reduce emissions in B.C. by 39 million tonnes (Mt) by 2050. That’s without an LNG industry. The LNG Canada project would add 4 Mt.
Weaver insists it’s 8 to 10 Mt, not four, because the provincial government is basing its numbers on a two-train plant, whereas LNG Canada’s plan eventually calls for four trains.
Weaver said he will give the BC NDP government time to prove that it can accomplish all of its goals by showing him its new climate change action plan. But he doesn’t think it can, and Weaver reiterated his threat to bring the government down on a non-confidence vote.
“You simply cannot do it, and if BC NDP continue to try, they’re done with,” Weaver told Business in Vancouver. “They’re gone.”
And contrary to what some pundits might say, Weaver said he would not necessarily wait for a referendum on proportional representation – a key Green party ambition, though secondary to climate change – in November before holding a non-confidence vote.
Even if the NDP government can prove that the LNG Canada project can be built within a 4 Mt emissions limit, it means putting the rest of B.C. on a strict carbon diet to meet the province’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets, as well as possibly shelving other future industrial projects.
The government plans to meet its targets, while developing an LNG industry, largely through “aggressive electrification” of the transportation, residential heating and natural gas sector.
Natural gas extraction, processing and transmission accounts for about 18% of B.C.’s emissions. The government hopes to take a big chunk out of the gas fields’ GHGs with new regulations that would reduce upstream methane emissions by 45%.
It also calculates 1.7 Mt of GHGs can be avoided by electrifying the gas fields, which would have the added benefit of providing additional industrial demand for power from Site C dam, which is expected to generate a power surplus once it comes online.
Some electrification of the gas sector has already occurred. Work is also underway on the Peace River Electricity Supply, a parallel transmission line running from the Shell Groundbirch Substation to Chetwynd. It would supply up to 230 megawatts of power to gas plants and pipelines in the region.
David Austin, energy lawyer at Clark Wilson LLP, said the government might be underestimating how many GHGs can be avoided by electrifying the gas fields.
He added that if the LNG Canada project were to use electric drive for two of its LNG trains, it might just fit into the province’s climate change targets.
“We will have a much better chance of meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets, if trains 3 and 4 at Shell’s LNG facility at Kitimat are electrified,” he said.
Susannah Pierce, director of external relations for LNG Canada, said the demand for B.C. gas in the U.S. is falling, which could offset any increased demand from LNG in Canada.
The B.C. government also estimates that switching from natural gas to electricity for heating would reduce GHGs from gas used domestically by about 0.3 Mt.
Pierce said there have been suggestions that LNG Canada would add an incremental eight to nine million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) to emissions in B.C.
“That’s not right,” she said. “LNG Canada, a plant at full build-out – four trains – is estimated to be approximately four million tonnes of CO2.
“Right now Canada is losing its market in the United States. The fact that we’re losing that U.S. customer means that a lot of that gas that would otherwise be produced is not going anywhere until we get an LNG production going.”
The B.C. government also suggests there is a global calculation to be considered. Partly because it will use clean hydroelectricity for the plant’s auxiliary power use, the LNG Canada plant would create 0.16 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of LNG produced, the lowest of any large LNG plant in the world.
So any LNG produced in B.C. would have a lower GHG profile than most other LNG plants. And if it displaces coal power, it’s expected there would be a net GHG reduction there, as well.
Marvin Shaffer, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Public Policy, suggests the government should rethink its climate change plan to include global emissions. Otherwise, the cost of meeting its climate change targets on British Columbians could be onerous.
“If, as the premier seemed to suggest, British Columbians would have to tighten their belts – further reduce their own emissions – to offset the GHGs from a new plant, the costs would be very high,” Shaffer recently wrote. “We need targets that are based on our net contribution to global emissions, not simply the amount of emissions that take place in British Columbia. That requires establishing emission reduction targets that take into account the impact of our exports on GHG emissions elsewhere.
“Otherwise we will either be imposing major costs on British Columbians to offset the carbon content of our exports, regardless of the impact of those exports on carbon emissions elsewhere. Or we will feel compelled to forgo major projects in order to avoid their GHG emissions in B.C. even though that will simply result in greater emissions elsewhere.”
Weaver said that’s not the way international climate change planning works.
“Even if you say that it’s a wash, in terms of changing coal to LNG … you’re making up international rules,” he said. “Nobody’s going to give you credit for that.”