The B.C. government's promise to establish a liquefied natural gas industry that is the "cleanest in the world" has been redefined – again.
Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for LNG development, said in an interview Tuesday his government will measure its clean emission standards only against other gas-fired LNG plants – dismissing technology that uses emissions-free electric power for the energy-intensive process of converting natural gas to a condensed liquid form.
"It's all about us meeting the commitment that we will have the industry that is the cleanest – the cleanest means to me that we will beat any other gas-fired plant in the world."
That nuance was not spelled out when Premier Christy Clark first promised to have "the cleanest LNG in the world" at a World Economic Forum meeting in China in 2012. Last year, the Premier clarified the "cleanest" standard would only apply to the facilities themselves, excluding any recognition of the greenhouse-gas emissions generated by extracting and moving natural gas to production plants.
On Tuesday, the proponents for the Woodfibre LNG project in Squamish announced that their liquefaction site will be powered by electricity supplied from a line connected to BC Hydro's grid.
Mr. Coleman said that's not a feasible option for some of the major LNG proposals in more remote communities.
"The cost to deliver the power would be so expensive that it would be ridiculous to make the investment," Mr. Coleman said. "On e-drive it's a different kettle of fish. The difference with the Woodfibre project is, there is grid access, there is power available and it's a small plant, so its requirement for electricity is nowhere near the requirement there would be for a major, 24-million-tonne operation."
Major LNG plants proposed for northwestern British Columbia are expected to be self-sufficient for their energy needs, relying on gas-fired generation for compressors that will super-cool natural gas into liquid form for export by tankers to Asia.
BC Hydro has based its long-term plans on that assumption, which means it is not building enough capacity to serve an LNG industry.
Byng Giraud, Woodfibre LNG's vice-president of corporate affairs, said however that a gas-fired plant creates air quality issues.
"We knew that having an electricity-driven plant would be slightly more expensive, but we can manage it," he said. Mr. Giraud said project officials have been listening to concerns about air quality voiced by local residents, and it makes sense to go for electric drives for compression because that will lower greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 per cent, compared with gas turbines.
There are 14 B.C. LNG projects in the works, although industry experts predict there will be only room for three or four export terminals at most.
"We believe that if the province is going to develop the LNG industry, then the industry's carbon footprint must be as small as possible," said Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada. "Woodfibre LNG is off to a good start by powering the plant with electricity instead of natural gas, and that sets the standard for others to follow."
Woodfibre LNG's expected annual capacity will be roughly one-tenth the amount planned for some of the larger projects envisaged in the northwest.
LNG projects powered by electricity are crucial to the B.C. government's goal to produce LNG in a way that emits the least amount of carbon pollution, Ms. Smith said. "Renewable electricity is a necessary ingredient, and this government has committed to having the cleanest LNG in the world," she said. "Electric drives do work, but the problem is industry inertia and the lack of government direction."
Mr. Coleman said he has long expected LNG to be largely fuelled by natural gas, noting that he paved the way for that option when he brought in legislation that deems natural gas a clean energy source if it is used to create LNG.