At the Energy Council of Canada's Vancouver April 14 breakfast Roundtable titled Powering British Columbia’s Natural Gas Facilities: Opportunities, Implications, Issues I once again felt caught in the draft of Deputy Premier Rich Coleman’s head-down bull charge to catch an LNG train he keeps insisting is about to leave the station - if it hasn’t already.
Echoing what we’ve heard so many times before, the LNG industry reps on the panel had several clear, well-scripted, oft-repeated messages to dump onto the 60-odd BC energy industry experts and leaders in the room, which is to say:
1. If we don’t act right away, this amazing LNG export opportunity will be utterly lost to BC (forever apparently, since according to this logic China and the rest of the world will stop needing energy after 2020) ... but BC will certainly need energy after 2020 so why not save some gas, if it can be responsibly procured, for our own use down the generations?
2. That gorgeous kid called BC is all growed up now and dating the most studly energy players on the planet. Her dates keep whispering how serious they are about her, that she’s special to them because she’s smart and “understands the economy”, not just because she has such attractive…resource assets.
3. Really sorry about this, but there won't be any clean renewable energy powering what is by far the most energy intensive part of the LNG supply chain: the refrigeration and compression cycles will all be powered by fossil gas, because why should the LNG proponents take that risk even if it costs the same?
4. Perhaps, and this is only a maybe, some renewable energy, perhaps up to 5% of total new energy requirements of the BC LNG scheme may find its way into LNG production supply chain at some point (but you must understand we can't commit to that, nor say how or when, since it all just depends).
5. … did we remind you again that BC’s LNG is going to be the cleanest in the world? (Because the BC Government has finally corrected under BC law the centuries-wrong Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word ”clean”.)
6. uh … there is no number 6 because phrases along the lines of "climate change”, “fugitive emissions”, “ecosystem fragmentation”, “fracking impacts”, “downside risk” and "most recent IPCC report declaring the world must act now” were not mentioned during the entire set of presentations by industry members of the panel, nor by the moderator.
7. … and another minor detail not mentioned: that for all the electrical and gas energy currently consumed in BC today (55,000 GWh/y electricity plus 205 PJ/y gas) much, much more than that amount of gas-equivalent energy consumption will be gulped to power just the first few of the 15 BC LNG plants proposed, and even that enormous quantum will account for less than 10% of the gas's total GHG emissions, with the rest coming from fugitive emmisions and the actual burning of the gas in final use.
That’s a heck of a lot of new energy consumption for BC, potentially three times what we consume today, 95% of which will be fossil gas-fired. (How do you say goodbye to BC’s enviable green, clean status?)
For my part, and I don’t think I’m off the true mark, the BC Government's LNG story has way too many holes in it, particularly the big rush to market we keep hearing about. Rushing might possibly serve the gas industry and the election cycle, though it's more likely to put them too far ahead of themselves and into trouble; while conversely there is no way that rushing such a monster-sized scheme could helpfully address the godzillaesque environmental and social challenges that would surely emerge.
So what’s this rush really about? Can it be reduced to just a cynical push to generate gas scarcity in North America against new export demand so as to raise domestic gas prices away from today's North America-wide tight-gas losses? In other words, is this whole LNG export scheme just a way for the gas industry to reinvent itself via the miracles of directional drilling and fracking, to lock North America into a future dominated by fossil gas rather than renewables?
There are too many intolerable unknowns about the BC LNG export scheme. The undefined economic and environmental risks are too high to make this monumental energy policy swing so precipitously, and to wed our province in a dependent role to the world’s most powerful global industry for the next 50 years whatever the cost.
I’m not canonically against the use of fossil gas. I could support it as a large-scale transition fuel away from coal, and for transportation, but only if we find scientific consensus about how to economically solve the fugitive methane gas emissions challenge and the other significant ecosystem impacts.
I’d also like to know if anyone has written a detailed business case that clearly demonstrates why the rushed BC LNG export scheme is likely to lead to net economic and social benefits for BC’s residents, rate-payers and tax payers. So far, I haven’t seen one.