British Columbia

Will LNG industry increase air pollution in northern B.C.?

Environmental groups say the proposed liquid natural gas industry will create 'Vancouver-style' air pollution in the Kitimat area of northwestern B.C.
The B.C. government has touted its plans to build LNG refineries and produce the world's cleanest natural gas, but a new report by environmental group Tides Canada questions whether B.C. is embracing the newest technologies that will lower greenhouse gas emissions from new LNG plants. (CBC)

A northwest B.C. environmental organization concerned about the area's wild salmon ecosystem has released a report  that estimates three proposed Kitimat LNG plants will burn 2.5 times more natural gas than is consumed in Metro Vancouver annually.

The SkeenaWild Conservation Trust report, "Air Advisory: The Air Quality Impacts of Liquefied Natural Gas Operations Proposed for Kitimat, B.C.," concluded LNG plants permitted to operate primarily with natural gas will collectively burn 60 per cent of all the natural gas burned annually in B.C.

The report concluded nitrogen oxide emissions from the LNG plants would increase 500 per cent above existing levels. Nitrogen oxide emissions create acid rain, which harms waterways and fish and creates smog, which causes respiratory problems for children and the elderly, the report states.

The report also concluded natural gas driven LNG plants will increase emissions in the Kitimat area of volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide.

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"The LNG industry could adopt alternative designs and technologies to keep air emissions low while still producing fuel," the report stated.

"From an air quality perspective, it would be difficult to objectively claim a given plant is the cleanest in the world unless it used (clean) technologies."

SkeenaWild's executive director Greg Knox said in an interview that British Columbians need to know more about the potential environmental and health impacts of natural gas-driven LNG plants.

"It's really important for the public to understand that if the government allows industry to burn natural gas to create the energy to liquefy the gas then we're going to be locked into these air emissions and greenhouse gas emissions for 30-plus years because it's extremely costly and unlikely industry will switch out to cleaner technology at a later date," said Knox.

Policy under development

Premier Christy Clark says her government is paying close attention to the potential air and water pollution impacts of proposed liquefied natural gas projects in northwest British Columbia.

Clark, who embarked on her fourth international trade mission to Asia to sell LNG overseas Thursday, said her government is in the process of developing an environmental policy for B.C.'s  natural gas industry.

"We are paying close attention to the total greenhouse gas emissions, the total particulate emissions," said Clark.

"The impact on water, on all of those legitimate concerns that people have. We intend to have the cleanest LNG facilities in the world. I think we can get there."

The premier has boasted that the industry represents a trillion-dollar economic opportunity that could create up to 100,000 jobs.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said the government recently commissioned a $650,000 study to examine airshed quality issues in the Kitimat area, which is geographically described as a lengthy, but thin mountain-bordered tunnel that traps air for long periods of time.

The study, which will be complete by March 31, will forecast the ability of Kitimat's airshed  to handle emissions from the existing Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum smelter, three proposed liquefied natural gas terminals, a proposed oil refinery and a crude-oil export facility.

The Opposition New Democrats and Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist who helped the Liberals formulate their climate policies, both earlier welcomed the study, saying it was better late than  never.

Polak said the government and industry need to get a complete perspective on the emissions the Kitimat area can expect from the proposed industrial activity.

"We know that there is going to be more than one plant proposed for Kitimat, so our study will look at the total capacity of the airshed, and as a result give us some information as to how we ought to regulate the plants so that we avoid a cumulative impact that would cause some harm to human health or the environmental sustainability of that airshed."