Clean LNG a myth, a bridge to climate nowhere and a dangerous fossil fuel

– by Eoin Finn –

Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is neither “green” nor sustainable. From drill-hole to burner tip, every tonne of this fossil fuel permanently pollutes millions of litres of water, consumes megawatts of electrical power, and releases about 4 tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If BC is to meet its emissions targets, the gas must stay in the ground.

LNG proponents like to tout their product as “clean”. When challenged to produce the science behind that claim, they retreat to declaring that the fossil fuel is “cleaner-burning” than coal and oil, and therefore useful as a “bridge fuel” in our overdue transition to relatively clean renewable energies. The former “clean” claim is pure spin. The difference is important if the public is to understand that there is no role for LNG in our urgent transition away from fossil fuel energies.

Methane gas is mostly derived from a brute-force mining technique called “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing). Fracking injects a mix of water, fracking fluid and sand at high pressure into pre-drilled boreholes. This forces fissures to open and blasts oil and gas from underground shale-rock formations. Because drill holes deplete quickly, frackers must move every few years, leaving behind a pockmarked countryside and an environmental mess.

Fracked gas is piped to a treatment facility, where it is refined to almost-pure methane. The unwanted bits – most of them potent greenhouse gases – are either flared off, or simply vented into the air.

Fracking is an extreme environmentally destructive technique – banned in many countries but not (yet) in Western Canada. At around 4 million tonnes per year, the “Spectra” gas pipeline to the Lower Mainland is BC’s single biggest source of greenhouse gases.

If all the gas mined in northeast BC was used in “cleaner burning” appliances, or cooled to its liquid form (LNG) at -1600C using grid electricity, the claim that the gas is “clean” might have some truth. But it isn’t. Besides the flaring and venting, there are leakages from active and abandoned drill holes, and from valves and compressor stations all along the pipeline route to your house, to the gas-powered LNG liquefaction plant, and from the 300-metre long tankers that take the liquefied gas to Asia, where burning it produces tonnes more greenhouse gases.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas packing 86 times the global warming punch of carbon dioxide (CO2), so these invisible leaks are deadly for the livability of our planet. BC’s Oil & Gas Commission allows the gas industry to self-report its leakage estimates, which independent research has shown to be seriously underestimated.

Proponents advance several arguments for continuing to mine, liquefy and export fracked gas. “If Canada doesn’t export the gas, competitors will” (a morally-bankrupt argument in a climate crisis); “Canada is a small contributor to global warming” (not true – at 17 tonnes annual GHG emissions each, we rank 11th, just below oil-soaked Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain); “Canada’s historical role is as a resource exporter” (no longer– being a high-cost producer isn’t working for our forest or mining industries, and won’t either for a liquefied gas industry in which we have no experience other than a hard-learned aversion to boom-and-bust, foreign owned industries).

A recent (April) editorial in the gas industry publication LNG Condensed put it bluntly. It criticized the industry for minimizing its environmental footprint, stating that “LNG is not green and it is not currently sustainable…Sitting around repeating the mantra that LNG is green and sustainable simply won’t cut the mustard. Get out there and convince the world that LNG can be made green and sustainable, preferably by deed as much as by word. Then, and only then, will the industry become a destination rather than a dispensable tool of transition”.

Climate disruption is the existential problem – we all must learn new habits. The switch from fossil fuels like LNG to much-cleaner renewable energy can’t come soon enough.

Eoin Finn B.Sc., Ph.D., MBA, is a Vancouver resident, a retired Partner of Accounting/Consulting firm KPMG and Research Director of My Sea to Sky, a people-powered environmental organization founded in 2014 to defend, protect, and restore Howe Sound.

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