Op Ed: Canadian LNG is full of hot air
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is lauded as a transition fuel, a replacement for coal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.
Unfortunately, these claims are backed by little substance.
LNG development will not only prevent Canada from meeting its emissions reduction targets, it may also be an economic non-starter due to decreased demand for fossil fuels and the increasing affordability of clean energy alternatives.
LNG is a gas that has been cooled to liquid form for easy and safe storage and transport. While LNG plants emit 50 to 60 per cent less carbon dioxide than coal plants, their carbon footprint grows substantially when emissions from the entire gas supply chain are factored in, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), venting and leaks, which release methane, a powerful GHG with a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 over a 20-year time frame.
Methane venting is responsible for about 20 per cent of emissions from gas production in B.C., according to the province’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory. A recent study of B.C.’s active and abandoned gas wells revealed that “almost 11 per cent of all oil and gas wells had a reported leak, together releasing 14,000 cubic metres of methane per day.”
Unfortunately, the federal government’s new methane regulations that came into effect this year will achieve only a 29 per cent reduction below the 2012 baseline level by 2025, according to the government’s own model results, and not the promised 40 to 45 per cent. The government received more bad news on Nov. 10 when federal scientists released a study that found methane emissions from the oil and gas sector are almost twice as high as emissions previously reported in Canada’s National Inventory Report.
Canada is home to approximately 200,000 fracked gas wells, primarily in the West, and one operational import LNG terminal in Saint John, N.B. According to a recent report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “even without any LNG exports, and assuming a 15 per cent reduction in upstream emissions through reduced fugitive methane and electrification, emissions from oil and gas production alone would exceed B.C.’s 2050 target by 54 per cent.”
Yet, at a time when domestic gas is poised to undermine emissions reduction targets, the federal government is considering the development of 18 LNG export facilities — 13 in B.C. alone — which, if built, would represent an annual capacity of 216 million tons. All this, according to government and industry spokespeople, to help Asian nations reduce their GHG emissions.
Canada’s proposed support for Asian climate action efforts are hardly substantive. The International Energy Agency writes: “Potential savings of around 100 Mt CO2 from switching (from coal to gas) are small relative to China’s overall power sector emissions of 4,500 Mt CO2.”
Canadian governments and industry also claim that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) will help limit the impact of LNG emissions in Canada. Current CCS technology is designed to separate CO2 from other gases produced at downstream facilities, such as coal and gas power plants. However, large-scale CCS operations have struggled to succeed despite decades of research. How CCS will resolve methane leakage from upstream operations also remains to be seen.
Eighty-five per cent of known reserves of oil, gas and coal must remain in the ground to have a 50 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 C, according to an Oil Change International study, which concludes that “no new oilfields, gas fields, or coal mines should be developed anywhere in the world beyond those that are already in use or under construction.”
And yet, industry and the Canadian governments view gas as the only affordable option to replace coal on a large scale in the short term, a view refuted by several international agencies, including the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, which writes that a substantial increase in global export capacity is outpacing demand.
As the next 10 years are critical in keeping global warming below a rise of 1.5 C, why is Canada investing in yet another fossil fuel when cleaner alternatives are at our disposal? The renewable energy age is upon us. The future is here. It is high time that Canada catches up to it.
Written by Beth Lorimer, KAIROS Ecological Justice Program Coordinator. Originally published in the National Observer on December 11, 2020.