The B.C. government says it will surpass its initial targets for building a liquefied natural-gas industry on the West Coast, predicting that five new processing plants will be in production by 2020. But officials are refusing to divulge what all that energy-intensive processing might do to the province's climate-change law.
In the same year that all those new facilities are supposed to be coming online, the province's greenhouse-gas emissions must be reduced by roughly 36 million tons compared to 2007 levels. B.C. adopted legislation more than five years ago compelling a reduction of GHG emissions by at least 33 per cent from those levels by 2020.
"Five LNG facilities would obliterate any hope of meeting those targets," said New Democratic Party energy critic John Horgan.
Both the provincial Liberals and NDP have embraced the prospect of building a new industry based on LNG. The Liberal government has made it a central feature of its jobs plan, saying it will result in 75,000 full-time jobs.
"We have never seen anything like this," a senior government official told reporters during a background briefing to update the LNG strategy. The government is "absolutely confident" that no fewer than five plants will be running seven years from now.
Progress, on the regulatory side, has moved swiftly in the year since the government began to promote the industry. The rush is spurred by growing demand in Asia, matched with a glut of natural gas in North America that has slashed domestic prices.
There are five active proposals for LNG facilities in B.C., and two have cleared most regulatory hurdles, including Kitimat LNG and the much smaller BC LNG Douglas Channel project.
None of the proponents has made final investment decisions, and part of that hinges on negotiations with the province regarding what those plants will use for energy. Most LNG facilities around the world power their own production by burning natural gas. British Columbia has promised to produce the cleanest LNG in the marketplace, but it is far from certain that production here will look much different from other jurisdictions.
According to modelling by the Pembina Institute, those five LNG plants would generate more than 43 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions, assuming they are generating their own energy.
"If the province pushed hard on climate policy, the total increase in emissions could probably be cut in half," said Matt Horne, Pembina's director for climate change. Even then, he said, "I can't see any way that the province could see that much LNG development and also meet its legislated GHG targets. You would need some very creative math to square the circle."
Mr. Horgan said the economic opportunity must be pursued, but he said there should be an open debate about the consequences for the climate-change agenda of extracting the gas, squeezing it along the pipelines to the coast, and then freezing it to a liquid state.
Jock Finlayson, chief economist for the Business Council of British Columbia, also believes that the greenhouse-gas targets will have to be amended.
"Government is going to have to revisit the existing targets regardless of who is in office, and regardless of how may LNG plants are built," he said. The climate-change agenda that was launched in 2007 did not envision the huge growth potential for natural gas in British Columbia, he said, nor does it recognize the global benefits of replacing higher-carbon energy sources with LNG.
"It shows you how quickly the energy landscape has changed," he said.