The federal Liberal government has formally approved the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas terminal with some 190 environmental and other conditions, including a requirement of a reduction in the carbon intensity of the $11 billion project. But even with if the company meets this condition, it is likely that emissions from the terminal will breach British Columbia’s climate mitigation targets.
Environment and climate change minister Catherine McKenna made the announcement late on Tuesday alongside the federal natural resources and fisheries ministers and BC Premier Christy Clark. McKenna said that the go-ahead follows extensive “meaningful” consultations with local First Nations.
“I am confident with the 190 legally binding, and scientifically determined conditions, that we will address the most important environmental impacts to ensure this project proceeds in the most sustainable manner possible,” she told reporters.
The bulk of the conditions concern human health and safety and biodiversity issues, including maintenance of freshwater fish habitat, protection of marine mammals and migratory birds. One section covers climate change issues, requiring a maximum cap on annual greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions are to be capped at 4.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, some 900,000 tonnes fewer than originally proposed by the Malaysia-based developer of the project, Petronas, or roughly 20 percent down from initial estimates by the firm.
In February, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which reports to the environment minister, warned that the project would release some 6.5 to 8.7 megatonnes of greenhouse gases per year, resulting in an 8.5 percent increase in annual provincial emissions.
Once upstream natural gas developments are taken into account—including hydraulic fracturing activities to access shale gas from Montney and Horn River in northeast British Columbia, the project would add between 18.5 and 22.5 percent to the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. By mid-century, emissions from the project would take up between 75 and 80 percent of the emissions permitted under BC’s 2050 climate target of a reduction of 80 percent on 2007 levels.
The PNW terminal, worth an investment of some $36 billion if the upstream developments are included, is just one of some 20 proposed LNG projects in BC, albeit a leading contender. The federal government approved the $1.6 billion Woodfibre LNG project near Squamish in March, which while controversial has not met with same public opprobrium. What makes the PNW project such a hot-button issue over the other in terms of global warming is the sheer scale of emissions.
The Pembina Institute said that even taking into account the approval’s conditions, the project would still be significantly more polluting than other LNG proposals on the books: some 31 percent higher than LNG Canada in Kitimat and 75 percent higher than Woodfibre LNG.
In May, some of climate science’s biggest hitters—including NASA’s former chief climate scientist James Hansen—warned in a letter to the minister that it would “make it virtually impossible for BC to meet its GHG emission reduction targets, and would undermine Canada’s international climate change commitments.”
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.