Natural gas: a way forward for BC and First Nations

Natural gas makes our province an energy giant. But what is LNG, and what does it mean for BC? Josiah Haynes explores.

Simply put, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is a scientific marvel. It’s clean, cheap, and efficient. That mix of qualities is hard to find, and it’s part of what makes BC’s LNG so promising.

With improving export infrastructure, BC has an incredible opportunity to be a leader in the global effort to bring down greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Asian markets are hungry for BC’s clean fuel to displace carbon-intensive coal power, which can create good jobs for British Columbians and provide the funds to help BC rebuild its economy after COVID-19.

Natural gas and LNG

BC is sitting on an energy bumper crop. About 670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are buried in BC, mostly in the northeastern parts of the province. With current production techniques, that’s 300 years' worth of natural gas. And recovery methods are steadily improving.

BC's natural gas is nearly free of sulphur, burns clean, and is lighter than air. In practical terms, that means it produces fewer pollutants than all other fossil fuels, is safe to use, produces the least fine particulates and GHGs of any conventional fuel during combustion, and dissipates quickly in the air in the case of a leak.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

LNG is simply natural gas in liquid form. It’s turned into a liquid state for easier transportation since it’s much denser than in gas form (think of the difference between a beach ball and a golf ball). To liquefy natural gas, it’s cooled to -162 degrees Celsius. After that, it can be sent to customers by ship, container, or truck.

LNG maintains the positive qualities of natural gas in that it’s clean, non-corrosive, and has lower carbon emissions than traditional fuels. Switching from coal, for example, to natural gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions by half and eliminates 99% of toxic particulate matter.

LNG evaporates into the air when exposed to the environment, leaving no residue on water or soil—meaning it’s incredibly safe to ship.

It’s also cost-effective, and the world is asking for more.

Climate opportunity

Moving towards a lower carbon future will require a diverse range of energy solutions, and LNG can play a key role in this transition. International shipping going to and from BC ports emits more total GHG emissions than the entire province combined. Beyond higher GHG emissions, conventional marine fuels also contribute to smog and poor local air quality, which makes replacing these fuels with LNG so attractive.

Some BC LNG facilities, like FortisBC’s Tilbury, produce LNG with some of the least carbon intensity of any facility in the world. Fuelling ships with LNG from Tilbury, which runs on renewable BC hydroelectricity, could reduce GHG emissions in marine shipping by up to 27%. In addition, LNG-powered ships help reduce local pollutants like nitrogen oxides by up to 95%, particulate matter by up to 99%, and sulphur oxides by almost 100%  resulting in cleaner air in the Lower Mainland and our coastal waters.

Companies like FortisBC are already doing innovative work to expand LNG marine bunkering opportunities. They developed a world-first on-board truck to ship LNG bunkering service and are working to establish a hub in BC as the first ship-to-ship marine LNG marine fuelling (or bunkering) service on the North American west coast.

2020 was a watershed year for climate commitments from BC energy companies. FortisBC set a goal as part of an initiative called 30BY30 to reduce their customers' GHG emissions by 30% by 2030. To help reach that target, it's producing LNG at its Tilbury facility for overseas customers to displace coal, providing a reliable source of affordable, clean energy. And other LNG and natural-gas developers and producers are working hard to reduce emissions.

Woodfibre LNG is building an export facility near Squamish. The facility would get its natural gas from northeastern BC via FortisBC and export the clean LNG to Asian and other markets. Woodfibre LNG would be powered by renewable hydro-electricity and be one of the world's cleanest LNG export facilities. 

FortisBC, Woodfibre LNG, and LNG Canada have found that supplying natural gas to Asia will help BC fight against climate change by reducing global carbon emissions.

A McKinsey report found that global demand for LNG will increase by 3.6% every year until 2035, and China, Indian, and Southeast Asia will need 80% more natural gas to displace coal over the next 20 years. According to the Canada Energy Research Institute, LNG accounts for 32% of globally traded gas, and global LNG is growing seven times faster than pipeline gas trade. By 2035, half of all globally traded gas will be LNG, which is expected to increase to 60% by 2040.

LNG Canada's $40 billion LNG project near Kitimat, BC, would export energy with 35-55% less GHGs than China's domestic coal. The largest Chinese GHG reductions from Canadian LNG will come from displacing coal in residential heating (56%), electricity generation (52%), and industrial heat generation (36%), says the company.

The Business Council of BC writes that with the phasing out of coal, "natural gas/LNG is the only rapidly deployable substitute for higher emitting energy sources, especially in electricity generation, where most of the progress on emissions reductions is taking place."

LNG is also providing jobs and revenue to First Nations in BC, and two Nations (the Haisla and the Nisga'a) even plan their own LNG plants and export terminals.

Haisla Chief Crystal Smith says: "The proposed LNG projects for Haisla Territory hold so much hope for our members in terms of employment and capacity-building for future generations that come. We see significant employment for our members, access to educational opportunities, and a way forward for a truly independent Nation."

BC Premier John Horgan is confident in BC's ability to join the global network of ports delivering clean LNG. The Premier noted that expanding BC as an LNG marine fuelling hub will allow the province to have a direct impact on reducing global emissions by supplying the low-emitting fuel:

"Working together, we can meet the increasing global demand for energy solutions that reduce air pollution and protect our climate while creating more jobs and opportunities for everyone in BC."

LNG is clean. It’s efficient, and BC has a lot of it. With expansions like Tilbury, Woodfibre LNG, and LNG Canada, BC shows how responsible resource development can be a win for the climate, not just in our province but around the world.

Josiah Haynes is a Writing and Research Coordinator at the Resource Works Society.

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