British Columbia

Pacific NorthWest LNG project 'deeply concerns' climate change experts

A group of international climate change experts has come out swinging against a massive LNG project in Northern B.C., saying it would become one of Canada's largest greenhouse gas emitters, if allowed to move forward.

$36 billion project would be one of Canada's largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions they say

An image from a promotional video shows an LNG tanker filling up at the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG facility near Prince Rupert, B.C. (Prince Rupert Gas Tranmission Project)

A group of international climate change experts has come out swinging against a massive LNG project in Northern B.C., saying it would become one of Canada's largest greenhouse gas emitters, if allowed to move forward.

In a letter to Canada's Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, the 90 scientists and experts call for a halt to the proposed Pacifc NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project near Prince Rupert.

They say when all of the associated emissions are added up, the project would raise B.C.'s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 22.5 per cent at a time when both B.C. and Canada lack adequate plans to meet existing climate change goals.

"This would make it virtually impossible for B.C. to meet its GHG emission reduction targets, and would undermine Canada's international climate change commitments," says the group's letter.

McKenna was expected to make a decision on the project earlier this year, but postponed her decision after federal officials asked the company for more information about the project.

GHG emissions underestimated

Of particular concern to the group is what they call the underestimation of how much methane gas would would actually leak out during extraction and transportation. Methane is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases and is a byproduct of LNG production.

They also dismiss arguments that selling LNG to other countries would cut GHG emissions in those countries by allowing them to stop burning coal.

"LNG will also likely displace nuclear power, 'renewables', and natural gas from other sources in many importing countries. There are many locations where LNG consumption would be additional to coal consumption, instead of replacing it. Importantly, GHG emissions from fracking, transport, liquefaction, and re-gasification significantly reduce LNG's GHG benefits over coal."

The proposed project would be located on Lelu Island at the mouth of the Skeena River, which is B.C.'s second largest salmon bearing river. (Brian Huntington)

Finally they point to Canada's recent commitment to limiting global warming at the Paris climate talks last fall, saying the massive fossil fuel project would be a step in the wrong direction.

"Honouring the commitment Canada made in Paris to limit global warming to well below 2.0 degrees above pre-industrial levels will require a massive effort to reduce emissions. We must begin by rejecting plans that would increase GHG emissions and lock us in fossil fuel extraction for decades to come."

"We therefore request that you withhold the environmental assessment certificate for PNW LNG, and take urgent action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

The 90 signatories on the letter include professors from universities in B.C., across Canada, the U.S. and Australia, including retired UBC professor William Rees.

"Industrial society is really at a crossroads. We are at a time when we have to decide between business as usual, which is bringing about massive climate change ... or doing those things that are absolutely necessary if we wish to maintain any orderly civilization on this planet."

He said the economic benefits from the project are not enough to justify it.

"Three hundred jobs. Closing one department store would have an equivalent impact on this province. Why are we willing as a nation to sacrifice our environment for a few hundred short term jobs? Yet the political pressure on McKenna is enormous."

$36 billion investment

The group of scientists is not the first to raise concerns about the project. In March 130 scientists wrote to the minister expressing concerns about the effects the LNG export facility would have on the biology of the large estuary at the mouth of the Skeena River, which is one of B.C.'s largest salmon-bearing rivers.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark addresses the LNG in BC Conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday October 14, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The draft report by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency into the Pacific NorthWest LNG development proposal for Flora Bank and Lelu Island was released in February.

The proposed project is billed as the largest private-sector investment in B.C.'s history, valued at $36 billion and estimated to create 4,500 construction jobs. The project has been approved by some First Nations in the area but opposed by others.

During the 2013 election B.C. Premier Christy Clark ran on a promise of building the province's financial future by developing LNG, saying it would generate 100,000 jobs.