The Weaver-Horgan LNG Kerfuffle Explained

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver becomes downright indignant at suggestions he has retreated even a fraction from the LNG ultimatum he first delivered during a year-end interview with DeSmog Canada.

“If B.C. starts to focus again on trying to land an LNG industry given all that has happened, I can tell you I am voting government down,” Weaver said in late December. “I am not standing by and watching us give away the farm yet again to land an industry we’re not competitive in. That’s my line in the sand.”

While Premier John Horgan was on a trade mission in Asia last week, Weaver repeated his ultimatum on Twitter, threatening to topple the government if the NDP continued to pursue “LNG folly,” emphasizing that B.C. cannot meet its climate targets if any major LNG project goes ahead.

But wait, let’s back up. What’s the deal with LNG, again?

Under the BC Liberals, B.C. pledged to build something of a liquefied natural gas, aka LNG, empire. There was just one catch — liquefying natural gas is a hugely energy intensive process. To turn gas into a liquid it must be cooled to -160°C, which involves running giant compressor stations 24/7.

Where does all that gas come from? In B.C.’s case, it comes via fracking in northeastern B.C. Post-frack, the idea was the gas would be piped to LNG facilities on the B.C. coast, where it would be liquefied and exported to Asia.

At least that was the plan. So what happened?

Former premier Christy Clark’s promise to get 20 LNG plants up and running (and three running by 2020) fizzled as B.C. came late to the party and gas prices dropped. In an attempt to woo LNG developers from all over the world, B.C. cut taxes and pollution penalties under B.C.’s carbon tax. Alas, come 2018, B.C. has not built a single LNG plant.

For the most part, B.C.’s LNG ambitions seemed dead, especially with the cancellation of Pacific Northwest LNG in July. It seemed enough of a non-issue that the Greens and the NDP didn’t actually hammer out a way to deal with LNG in their historic deal to work together (their Confidence and Supply Agreement).

On most other issues, ranging from Site C to the Kinder Morgan pipeline to the carbon tax, the two parties came to a point of preliminary agreement. But any mention of LNG was conspicuously absent from the power-sharing pact.

“It’s not going to happen,” Weaver told DeSmog Canada when asked about the absence of and language on LNG in the agreement.

“The thing about LNG is it’s non-existent here in B.C. I’ve been saying for four years, there is no market for LNG. I mean, we missed the boat on that,” he said. “So, there’s no language on that because there’s no need for language on that…because it’s simply a non-issue for B.C.”

Then what’s changed?

In June 2017 the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish received federal approval, hinting at a potential revival in the LNG industry.

More recently Premier John Horgan announced his first trade mission to Asia and told representatives from LNG Canada and Kitimat LNG he’d be discussing B.C.’s LNG strategy with trade partners.

Heads swivelled to Andrew Weaver, whose vow to bring down government was now being repeated over and over and over.

With threats and replies being tossed back and forth in media reports, Weaver and Horgan appeared at loggerheads over the future of LNG.

That’s when they hopped on the phone. After a call from Horgan, Weaver told reporters he felt reassured they were on the same page.

Since Horgan hasn’t publicly backed down from looking for LNG opportunities, doesn’t that mean Weaver has retreated?

Absolutely not, Weaver replied.

“I haven’t backed up one inch. Not one inch. The thing I have been reassured of by Mr. Horgan, is that he claims that they are going to make meeting our targets a condition of anything.”

Does that mean the two LNG projects that are most advanced — Woodfibre LNG in Squamish and the much larger LNG Canada in Kitimat — could go ahead and B.C. could still meet its target of reducing emissions 80 per cent from 2007 levels by 2050?

“No, no. That’s a flat, unequivocal no,” Weaver told DeSmog Canada.

“You cannot add 10 megatonnes of emissions and somehow think we are going to reduce by 80 per cent by 2050. There is simply no possible path to do that. It’s impossible.”

B.C.’s goal is to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 — a target that Environment and Climate Change Strategy Minister George Heyman admits will be tough to meet since the province is on track to blow its 2020 targets.

By 2050, the province’s goal is to reduce emissions 80 per cent below 2007 levels. To put that into real numbers, right now B.C. emits 64 megatonnes of greenhouse gases a year. By 2050, the province will need to emit 12.8 megatonnes a year or less to meet its target.

So what about the LNG projects that have already been approved?

Woodfibre LNG in Howe Sound is a relatively small project with a price tag of $1.6 billion and plans to export about 2.1 million tonnes of LNG each year. Woodfibre is the only project that has committed to using electricity to run its compressors, making it far less emissions intensive than other plants.

The other approved project is Shell’s $40 billion LNG Canada project in Kitimat, which is awaiting a final investment decision. Researchers from the Pembina Institute estimate the project would emit 8.6 megatonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030 and 9.6 megatonnes by 2050.

It’s not known what would happen if the government decided emissions from these previously approved projects are too high to allow them to proceed.

“That’s a speculative question,” said Heyman, adding that his first task is to ask for information on emissions and then relay the information to cabinet and the premier.

The bottom line is that if the NDP government wants LNG, they cannot meet their targets and, conversely, if they want to meet their targets they cannot have LNG, Weaver said.

“It’s really as simple as that,” he said. “Before anything happens they need to have a plan to reach their targets. All this is predicated on having a plan and that is completely missing, so what I want to see in the Throne Speech/budget is a commitment to put a climate strategy in place.”

Karen Tam Wu of the Pembina Institute said if the two approved projects proceed, it will be very hard to meet targets.

“We would be in a carbon budget crunch with two projects that occupy nearly 75 per cent of our 2050 carbon budget so what tools does the government have available to grow that part of the pie?” she asked.

There are opportunities to reduce emissions in the transportation and building sectors through retrofitting homes at a much greater rate than at present and promoting an exponential uptake of zero emissions vehicles, Wu said.

What now for LNG?

Heyman said he and Weaver agree there must be concrete action on climate change, with clear targets and an action plan and, at the request of Horgan, the Climate Action Secretariat has been asked to come up with emissions profiles of different sizes of LNG plants and conditions that could minimize those emissions.

“Then we can look at that profile and see how it sits in an overall emission reduction plan. I have told Andrew Weaver that that is what we are doing and I look forward to discussing those numbers and answers when they come back,” Heyman said.

The aim will be to look at all areas where emissions can be reduced, including electrification, leak detection and repair technology and reducing fugitive emissions, he said.

“All of that changes the emissions profile…Then we need to look at an overall emissions strategy across all industrial sectors,” he said.

The NDP have also promised to undertake a scientific review of fracking, the process by which B.C.’s natural gas is produced.

The Throne Speech and budget in the coming weeks are likely to mention climate action, but a full climate action strategy is unlikely to be ready for several months, Heyman said.

“We established a Climate Action and Clean Growth Advisory Council to work with our Climate Action Secretariat and give feedback on opportunities and impacts we need to mitigate…and we can probably roll out some specific actions in the coming months, but a full-blown plan is going to take a lot of work from a lot of people and that may not be ready until the fall,” he said.

Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the…

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