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Environment Minister Mary Polak says the annual GHG emissions related to the Petronas-backed LNG plant could be reduced to 3.7 million tonnes.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government's new climate action plan, to be unveiled in June, will promise to significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated by a liquefied natural gas industry as part of the province's bid to win federal approval for the proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG project near Prince Rupert.

Environment Minister Mary Polak says the annual GHG emissions related to the Petronas-backed LNG plant could be reduced to 3.7 million tonnes. The climate plan calls for reductions in methane emissions at the wellhead, and it would encourage the use of electric power to get natural gas out of the ground and then squeezed down pipelines to the coast.

That would be a massive reduction compared with the estimates produced by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which calculate the project's emissions from the wellhead to the waterline to be at least 11.8 million tonnes each year.

"Your total emissions with PNW would be 3.7 [million tonnes annually], which is way, way lower than if you don't do anything," Ms. Polak said in an interview.

While British Columbia is seeking to mitigate the dramatic spike in emissions that would be associated with the establishment of an LNG industry by reining in pollution from upstream of the processing facilities, the proponents of LNG are appealing to Ottawa by promoting the industry as a global gift to climate action.

The future of the LNG industry in British Columbia depends in part on addressing climate issues. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said she wants to see the B.C. climate plan as she contemplates approval for Pacific Northwest LNG, a $36-billion project. Her decision is expected later this year.

Ms. Polak's plan demands a restructuring of the natural gas industry. Tackling methane emissions would require co-operation with Alberta, while bringing additional power to the northeast corner of the province would mean building costly transmission lines.

David Keane, president of the BC LNG Alliance, was in Asia last week seeking to convince investors that British Columbia remains open for business on energy exports. Representing eight companies that hope to sell Canadian energy to Asia, Mr. Keane said Canada can say yes to LNG by cutting GHG emissions just about everywhere else, including on roads, in houses and at the industry's wells and compression pumps.

The changes to the upstream natural gas industry alone could yield four million tonnes in annual greenhouse gas emissions savings, he said.

The bargain Mr. Keane proposes would not only require new transmission lines but it would also demand that industry retrofit well facilities to run on electricity rather than natural gas, and raises questions about the fairness of pushing the burden of greenhouse gas cutting to the "upstream," or gas-producing segment of the industry. Some gas producers have ownership interests in LNG export projects. Others do not.

Ms. Polak said she is still working on the details of her climate action plan, a revision of the province's plan introduced eight years ago. The original plan included a target to dramatically reduce GHGs by the year 2020 – an objective that will not be met. The Environment Minister said she is working on changes that would aim to get British Columbia back on track to meet its 2050 target.

By adding LNG to the picture, the province will have to squeeze emissions harder in areas such as transportation and buildings.

Ms. Polak said she is hopeful that the federal government would play a role in paying for new transmission lines; two power lines have been proposed but are on hold because of current market conditions for natural gas.

"That's part of the challenge here," Ms. Polak said in an interview. "Governments are not going to be investing billions of dollars into transmission lines upstream if it doesn't look like that industry is going to continue to flourish. That would make no sense."

But even if that problem can be solved, cutting emissions at the wellhead "doesn't answer the overall question," said Matt Horne, associate director for B.C. at the Pembina Institute. "What's the plan that gets B.C. back on track for its targets. You could electrify some of the upstream and B.C.'s overall carbon emissions would still be going up."

LNG exporters could themselves substantially cut emissions by using hydroelectricity for liquefaction, rather than burning gas to power their facilities. But sufficient electricity is not now available on the coast, and companies such as Shell and Petronas have already submitted plans for regulatory approval that include the more carbon-heavy technology.

To use electricity, "you have to get regulatory approvals, you'd have to go back and redesign the facilities. So you would be delaying probably another three to four years on the facilities themselves, plus getting regulatory approval to build the high-tension power lines would be another four to five years," Mr. Keane said.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the project will be in Kitimat. It is slated to near Prince Rupert. This online version has been corrected.

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