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British Columbia LNG facilities in B.C. would cause carbon output to spike, report says

A model at the LNG Canada offices in Kitimat, B.C., on June 26, 2014, shows the proposed liquefied natural gas plant and marine terminal. The Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum smelter is in the background.

Robin Rowland/The Canadian Press

From the well to the waterline, the greenhouse-gas emissions created by a liquefied natural gas industry in British Columbia could be responsible for generating more than half of the province's total carbon output in 2020.

A newly released government report outlines the staggering amount of GHGs that an LNG industry would release into the atmosphere. The province is banking on the establishment of five LNG facilities. If that ambition is met, the province's GHG emissions will increase by 28 million tonnes when the extraction and transport of natural gas are included. And that is the best-case scenario, in which industry embraces renewable power, carbon capture and storage and other pollution-reducing technology.

By the year 2020, the province's total output of GHGs is supposed to be 41 million tonnes. That target was set in law under the climate action agenda, and Environment Minister Mary Polak said Monday she is working on an updated version of that pollution-limiting program to make room for LNG.

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The province will need to squeeze significantly more carbon out of transportation, buildings and industry. Ms. Polak did not rule out raising the carbon tax when the freeze lifts in July, 2018. "It's one of the things we're looking at," she said. "It has proven to be one of the most effective tools, but I don't know it is essential to change it."

The B.C. Liberal government has made the establishment of a new LNG industry a central economic commitment, but it has marketed this as a green industry, promising to offset dirty coal in China with "the cleanest LNG in the world."

Until now the government has focused on the LNG facilities themselves, and Ms. Polak recently introduced legislation setting a benchmark for allowable GHG emissions that is lower than any other LNG facility in the world.

The February, 2014, draft report from the consulting firm Globe Advisors looked more broadly at the "life cycle" of natural gas right from the wellhead, showing that more than half of emissions are generated upstream of the LNG plants.

With five facilities producing a total of 81 million tonnes of LNG – the province's current expectation – an estimated 13 million tonnes of GHGs would be released under the government's ambitious benchmarks. Another 15 million tonnes of carbon would be released as a result of extracting the natural gas from the ground in the province's northeast and then shipping it by pipeline to the facilities on the coast.

The report notes that carbon emissions are not the only concern. "The scale of development can have major implications for local communities, land use, and water resources. Serious hazards, including the potential for air pollution and for contamination of surface and groundwater, must be successfully addressed," the report says. The liquefaction process "could cause difficulty downstream" as it removes components such as dust, acid gases, helium and heavy hydrocarbons.

"Greenhouse gas emissions must be minimized, both at the point of production, and throughout the entire natural gas supply chain. Improperly addressed, these concerns threaten to curb, if not halt, the development of unconventional resources."

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The report is only being released now because the government has introduced its regulatory framework for the hoped-for LNG industry. Ms. Polak said she still has work to do, however, to figure out how to meet the GHG reduction targets.

She said her Climate Action Secretariat is still working on the options, and she has not set a deadline for announcing any changes.

"It depends on when we land what looks like Climate Action 2.0 – that has to be developed in conjunction with the development of LNG," she said.

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