New Poll Suggests LNG Development at Odds with B.C.’s Incredibly High Climate Action Support

Last year B.C. joined Washington State, Oregon and California in an effort to limit the causes and effects of climate change. A new poll released today shows British Columbians are eager to see the government keep its commitments under the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy.

The climate plan was designed to respond to “the clear and convincing scientific evidence of climate change, ocean acidification and other impacts from increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which threaten our people, our economy and our natural resources.”

The plan was signed in 2013, with little fanfare. Yet, residents of B.C. strongly support the initiative, and the government’s commitments to limit carbon pollution.

But with the B.C. government’s big ambitions to develop and export liquefied natural gas (LNG), there appears to be a conflict brewing within the province’s own objectives.

Today’s poll, commissioned by the Pembina Institute, Clean Energy Canada and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) was conducted by Strategic Communications and shows British Columbians want to prioritize five things:

1.     Transition to energy efficient buildings (91%)

2.     Hit our climate targets (89%)

3.     Maintain low-carbon fuel standard (88%)

4.     Increase electric vehicles in government and company fleets (82%), and

5.     Continue the carbon tax (69%)

So far B.C. has been successful at limiting its carbon emissions. The province has a commitment to limit emissions 33 per cent below 2007 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent below by 2050.

In 2012 the province met its interim goal of being 6 per cent below 2007 levels. The next interim goal comes up in 2016, when the province plans to be 18 per cent below 2007 levels.

But, given the province’s massive push to develop its natural gas resources and build several LNG facilities to liquefy and export the gas to Asia, experts are concerned B.C. may be in danger of failing to meet those targets.

B.C.’s failed ‘clean’ LNG promise

The B.C. Liberal government has made the development of the province’s natural gas deposits and the export of LNG a strong part of its clean energy platform.

In 2010 the province committed to having one LNG plant in operation by 2015 and three more to follow by 2020. Initially the government pledged to have these plants run on clean energy, but has since exempted LNG plants from this requirement, confusing exactly what ‘clean’ LNG might mean.

In 2012 Premier Christy Clark promised to deliver “the cleanest LNG in the world” at the World Economic Forum in China. Within a year she clarified that her “cleanest” standards would only apply to LNG facilities, and not the extraction of gas via fracking or transmission of the resource to production plants.

Then recently Rich Coleman, the provincial minister responsible for natural gas development, told the Globe and Mail the B.C. government would now only be measuring B.C.’s LNG facilities against other facilities, meaning the “cleanest” LNG in the world only has to out-perform previously existing plants to meet the province’s standards.

Coleman also dismissed the previous goal of running LNG plants on clean energy, saying “the cost to deliver the power would be so expensive that it would be ridiculous to make the investment.”

Clean Energy Canada, however, would disagree. The group recently commissioned a feasibility study to determine the reliability and affordability of regionally sourced renewable power for B.C.’s LNG development.

They found “any LNG facility on the North Coast could primarily power its production facilities with renewable energy and do so reliably, affordably and on schedule – using established commercial technologies.”

Further, they found “doing so reduces that plant’s carbon pollution by 45 per cent, and increases local permanent jobs by 40 per cent.”

Kevin Sauvé from the Pembina Institute confirmed that B.C.’s LNG ambitions stand in conflict with its own climate targets: “Multiple analyses have shown that B.C. targets are not achievable if three LNG terminals are developed by 2020, as the government intends.”

“This highlights a tension between public opinion and current government priorities, and is something that government should address as it develops its LNG regulations and the next phase of the Climate Action Plan,” Sauvé told DeSmog Canada.

There are a total of 14 proposed LNG facilities for the central coast of B.C.

As DeSmog Canada previously reported, the gas industry is seriously underreporting fugitive methane emissions – a reporting error that threatens B.C.’s ability to meet its own targets under the Climate Action Plan.

Using standard industry fugitive emissions rates, B.C. natural gas production emissions are likely 25 per cent higher than reported.

Another poll, commissioned by the same three groups and released in April of this year, found 78 per cent of British Columbians want the province to shift away from producing, using and exporting fossil fuels and to make the transition to using cleaner sources of energy.

“Given British Columbians desire to see the province transition away from both using and exporting fossil fuels, a wholesale push for LNG does not make sense for B.C.,” Sauvé said.

“Particularly given that the government’s current plans for developing LNG will make it impossible for the province to hit its climate targets.” 

Climate action and a strong economy

An analysis from the group Sustainable Prosperity shows B.C.’s carbon tax is both an “environmental and economic success story.”

The carbon tax, according to Sustainable Prosperity, has been remarkably good at limiting fuel use since it was introduced in 2008. And there have been no adverse impacts on the B.C. economy to speak of.

While B.C. reduced its fuel consumption by 17.4 per cent, its GDP kept pace with the rest of Canada.

Stewart Elgie, professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa and the report’s lead author said, “B.C.’s experience shows that it is possible to have both a healthier environment and a strong economy – by taxing pollution and lowering income taxes.”

Another new report from PICS shows that, despite the government’s decision to exempt the agricultural sector from the carbon tax, there is “little evidence that the carbon tax was associated with any statistically significant effects on agricultural trade or competitiveness.”

Even in areas where the carbon tax was assumed to have negative impacts, there appears to be little damage done.

“The first phase of BC’s climate action plan has been an environmental and economic success,” Sauvé said, “and now is the time to build on it.”

“Government needs to lay out a road map for how we will meet our 2020 climate target as part of the second phase of its Climate Action Plan. Following through on the commitments it’s made in the Pacific Coast Action Plan would be a good start, particularly as those commitments appear to be popular with British Columbians.” 

Image Credit: Rich Coleman speaks at the B.C. LNG Conference. Photo by the Province of B.C. via Flickr.

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Carol Linnitt is a journalist, editor, illustrator and co-founder of The Narwhal. Carol has been reporting on energy and environmental…

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