Oil rig and thunder cloud near Dawson Creek.

B.C. LNG and Fracking – News and Information

The B.C. provincial government claims that the province stands to make billions through the export of liquefied gas natural gas (LNG), but there remain big questions and debate about an expanded B.C. LNG sector and the environmental issues that come with it.

Overview of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG)

In the last decade there has been a boom in natural gas extraction and export in North America, mainly in the United States where new processes have allowed for access to natural gas reserves that were previously inaccessible. The most common of these new extraction processes is called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The fracking process involves pumping large amounts of mud, water and chemicals into deep natural gas deposits, creating enough pressure to crack open rock formations and release the gas.

These new gas discoveries have created an appetite for exports. To turn natural gas into a liquid for export, it must be cooled to 163 degrees below zero. Doing so requires running massive compression units 24/7. Each of the large LNG plants proposed for B.C.’s coast would need the equivalent of an entire Site C dam (1,100 megawatts of capacity) to power it by electricity. However, the reality is many of these plants will run their compressor units on natural gas, creating greenhouse gas emissions in the process. The proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG plant in B.C.’s northwest could become the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada if it is built.

LNG in British Columbia

In the run-up to the 2013 provincial election, B.C. Premier Christy Clark predicted an economic boom in the billions of dollars with the expansion of natural gas extraction and new large-scale LNG export facilities in B.C. Clark stated that an expanded LNG sector, mainly in the Peace River region in the province’s Northeast, would pay off the provincial debt and produce more than 100,000 new jobs.

However, since Clark’s claims in 2013 there has been a major glut in the global natural gas market, mostly due to aggressive expansion in the United States and a slowdown in demand in Asian markets. While at least 19 export LNG projects have been proposed for B.C., by spring 2016 none had yet started construction.

LNG, Fugitive Emissions and Climate Change

As the world deals with the realities of climate change, the natural gas industry has promoted itself as a less carbon-intensive form of energy than coal. While it is true that natural gas emit less carbon when it is burned, there remain major concerns about the amount of so-called “fugitive emissions” that are lost into the atmosphere during the extraction and transport of natural gas.

Natural gas is primarily methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that is not easy to contain once it is brought to the surface and transported for processings. A 2013 report by DeSmog Canada contributor Stephen Leahy found that methane emissions from British Columbia’s natural gas industry are likely at least seven times greater than official numbers, putting in jeopardy the province’s entire commitment to greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Hydraulic Fracturing, Drinking Water Contamination and Earthquakes

The process of fracking has also been very controversial, especially in the United States where there has been a fracking boom in the past 15 years. A Stanford study on fracking has found the practice contaminates ground water. There are documented cases in both the U.S. and Canada of residents  near hydraulic fracking sites being able to light their tap water on fire due to the high methane content.

There have also been documented cases of earthquakes being caused by the fracking process, which disrupts geological formations deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Here in Canada, a study published in March 2016 confirmed the link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes. The researchers found, “39 hydraulic fracturing wells (0.3% of the total of fracking wells studied), and 17 wastewater disposal wells (1% of the disposal wells studied) that could be linked to earthquakes of magnitude 3 or larger.”

 

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