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B.C. government not releasing report measuring LNG’s impact on environment

Fortis BC Senior LNG operator Thomas Moore in the pre-treatment area at the Mt. Hayes Natural Gas Storage Facility in Mt.Hayes, B.C. April 2, 2013.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. government is sitting on a report commissioned by its climate-action secretariat that measures the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with developing a liquefied natural-gas industry.

The pursuit of LNG is Christy Clark's central ambition as Premier but it is one that is widely expected to collide with the province's legislated requirement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. So far, her government has sidestepped questions about how former premier Gordon Campbell's legacy on climate change will be reshaped to accommodate Ms. Clark's agenda around resource development.

The study, commissioned last March at a cost of $16,000, was to be "a high quality, polished report that would be appropriate for sharing publicly on a stand-alone basis if desired at some point in the future," wrote Stephan Wehr, vice-president of the Delphi Group, in an e-mail last March confirming the government contract.

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The documents obtained through a Freedom of Information application are largely redacted – blanked out because the contents are considered advice to cabinet. However it is clear that before the provincial election last May, the government would have had its answers since the Delphi Group promised a report within two weeks.

The ministry of environment refused on Thursday to release the report, however, saying it is "to support ongoing cabinet discussions and not publicly available." A spokesman said Environment Minister Mary Polak was unavailable for comment.

In the absence of any government data, Tides Canada released its own assessment of the potential impact of LNG on the province's carbon footprint in September. That report provided estimates showing that if the LNG industry grows as large as the B.C. government predicts, its carbon footprint could amount to nearly double that of the entire oil sands in 2010.

So far, the provincial government has not established any regulations around the energy-intensive process of producing LNG, although planning documents indicate that most LNG plants are expected to burn natural gas to make the massive amounts of energy required to convert natural gas to a liquid state. Electric-drive compression fuelled by renewable energy does not appear to be the favoured option.

The province is expected to announce its new LNG tax regime as early as this month – the details about environmental regulation will likely follow.

But Ms. Clark set the bar high when she repeatedly promised that B.C. would produce "the cleanest LNG in the world."

By the year 2020, British Columbia must reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 33 per cent below 2007 levels. The target was a central plank in Mr. Campbell's commitment to fight climate change. A year ago, Ms. Clark suggested those GHG targets may be bent to clear the way for LNG: "We'll have to see what happens with some of those targets. We may start thinking more globally about this as a result of it."

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More recently, her government has dismissed questions about the targets as hypothetical, and Ms. Clark has clarified that she doesn't count the significant emissions associated with the upstream production of natural gas as part of her clean LNG promise.

Merran Smith, director of the Clean Energy Program at Tides Canada, said her organization conducted its own LNG study because the government appeared to have no data of its own about the potential GHG impact.

"There was no information publicly available to let the public know, what is it going to take for the government to live up to its commitment that we would have the cleanest LNG in the world," she said Thursday.

The Tides Canada report concluded that, unless the province adopts strict and potentially costly rules around production, B.C. LNG could produce three times as much carbon dioxide as the best projects in Norway and Australia. The province is seeking to find the "sweet spot" on taxation and regulation that will land final investment decisions for LNG plants.

Follow me on Twitter: @justine_hunter

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