Carl Meyer, Canada’s National Observer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
British Columbia’s two dominant political parties are backing liquefied natural gas development as part of their re-election campaign platforms.
How the parties differ
The BC Liberals say they want to expedite LNG export projects, while the BC NDP has offered qualified support for LNG development, saying that any such effort must fit into the provincial climate plan and use “world-leading regulations and technologies” to cut methane.
Both positions stand in contrast to that of the BC Greens, whose leader Sonia Furstenau is against all new fossil fuel infrastructure and argues that a massive export project being built in Kitimat would blow by the province’s 2050 climate target.
Expediate LNG export projects
On Oct. 13, the BC Liberals released their election platform declaring that, if elected, they would “expedite LNG export projects.”
“We must ensure respect, certainty and clarity for employment in the natural resource sectors,” it stated. “Thriving natural resource industries are vital to sustaining our health care, education and other public services — and B.C.’s industries must be globally competitive in order to succeed.”
The party platform said a BC Liberal government would speed up such projects by forging “collaborative agreements with Indigenous groups involved in LNG” and “work with them to establish accelerated review and approval processes.”
Meanwhile, the BC NDP’s platform, released earlier, touted an “LNG industry that meets B.C.’s needs and conditions” in a section on natural resources.
The platform references the $40-billion LNG Canada project, expected to transport natural gas supplied by the Coastal GasLink pipeline to markets in Asia. The NDP said that project is “expected to feature one of the lowest GHG-emission intensities” of any global LNG facility.
“It shows that when people work together, we can balance our economic, environmental, social, and reconciliation priorities,” reads the platform. “This project will be comprehensively monitored to ensure it delivers on B.C.’s conditions, including living up to our climate commitments.”
Proponents of the project have said it will bring in $23 billion to the B.C. government, as well as jobs and economic activity to the province, and give a boost to the northern region. It also has support from the federal government; the Trudeau Liberals have given $275 million to the project.
Will natural gas ‘lower’ emissions?
But research is still being done on the sector’s environmental benefits; for example, the claim that using natural gas will lower emissions because it will likely displace older coal-fired power plants since gas burns cleaner than coal.
Natural gas exploitation releases methane, which is 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere over a 20-year period. Studies have linked a rise in global methane levels with the boom in fracking. The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial contributor to methane emissions in Canada.
Last month, a study showed how newer gas plants in the United States were projected over their lifetimes to shave much of the gains off of U.S. coal plant shutdowns.
The study, first reported by HuffPost, said that when researchers included other factors, such as leaks of methane, this further reduced the potential emissions savings. Previous work has also shown that natural gas not only competes with coal power but with other energy sources, such as solar power.
LNG must fit CleanBC plan
In a statement, the BC NDP said it has been clear that “any LNG development must fit into our climate plan.”
“CleanBC is the most ambitious climate plan in North America and any project must be consistent with our climate targets. We won’t compromise those targets and have a legislated plan to address methane in partnership with the federal government,” reads the statement.
“Lastly, to make sure our reduction goals are being met, we’ll employ world-leading regulations and technologies to detect and reduce harmful methane emissions.”
Will get us only 3/4 of the way
But Furstenau argued the province’s CleanBC plan only gets three-quarters of the way to its 2030 targets.
“Including LNG Canada, emissions from oil and gas production would exceed B.C.’s 2050 target by 160 per cent, even if emissions from the rest of the economy were reduced to zero by 2035,” she said.
“The science is clear: We cannot keep building fossil fuel infrastructure that will pollute for many decades into the future if we are serious about avoiding a climate catastrophe. If the NDP is serious about climate action, it should cancel fossil fuel subsidies now.”