Some of the biggest names in climate science have called on the Canadian government to reject a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) project in British Columbia, arguing that the resulting greenhouse gas emissions are likely to be much higher than have been anticipated.
Around 90 climatologists, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors and scientists in related fields—including NASA’s former chief climate scientist James Hansen—wrote to federal environment minister Catherine McKenna, requesting that the project be halted. McKenna was due to issue a decision on the matter in March, but instead delayed her verdict pending the delivery of additional information from the company behind the project, a unit of Malaysia-based Petronas. The firm is looking to build an LNG processing terminal on Lelu Island near Prince Rupert, a project expecting to cost some $36 billion.
The letter signatories say that once “upstream emissions” are taken into account, the project would add between 18.5 and 22.5 percent to the province’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it impossible for BC to meet its existing emissions reduction commitments, let alone more stringent targets in the wake of the UN climate accord agreed in Paris last December. Upstream emissions include methane from such activities as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), processing, and transport, not merely the emissions from the operation of the facility itself.
Emissions from the project are “likely underestimated”, the letter reads. The figures reported by the company and included in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s draft assessment do not include the total emissions released over the full life cycle of the project. Quantification of fugitive methane emissions are based on a leakage rate of around 0.28 percent, “which has not been verified by field studies.” But the US Environmental Protection Agency assumes a methane leakage rate of 1.33 percent for comparable processes.
The authors also say that there is no evidence to suggest that LNG from the project would allow Asian nations to wean themselves off coal and oil, which are much greater sources of GHGs than gas. The BC government has defended the project as a climate solution, saying that natural gas can work as a ‘bridging fuel’ between coal and clean energy sources. However, in the case of BC LNG, it is likely to displace renewables and nuclear, while in many locations, LNG would be used in addition to coal, and not instead of coal.
This conclusion debunking coal substitution was among the findings of a joint PICS-Pembina Institute white paper on LNG released in 2014. In its analysis, the report also found that under a tough international climate-change mitigation regime hoping to avoid 2°C of warming compared to pre-industrial times, natural gas demand would peak around 2030 and then drop below current levels by mid-century. Natural gas does have a role to play as a bridging fuel in some areas, but that role would only appear if the jurisdictions that produce and consume the gas put in place strong mitigation policies.
The Climate Examiner speaks to BC-based Carbon Engineering about the technology, the business and the policies that could make direct air capture, synfuels and carbon sequestration work.