Scientists and climate experts from Canada, the U.S. and Australia called Monday for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to reject the $12-billion Pacific Northwest LNG project.
The 90 scientists – including two from NASA and one who sits on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – said in a letter to Trudeau that the project must be rejected because of its “significant adverse environmental effects from greenhouse gas emissions.”
The letter says the project poses serious risks to climate change targets in B.C. and Canada, that greenhouse gas emissions are likely underestimated for the project and there is inadequate climate change policy to reduce impacts for the project.
The project, led by Malaysia state-controlled Petronas, is likely to be one of the first tests of Trudeau’s position that Canada will take a global leadership role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a stand the prime minister made clear in Paris at a climate summit in November.
“It would be a massive source of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere,” said Simon Fraser University professor Kirsten Zickheld, who signed the letter. “If you are in a hole, you shouldn’t dig deeper. What you should really do is start to get out of that hole. In this case, what it really means is leaving fossil fuels behind and embarking on a renewable energy trajectory”
Added Tim Flannery, chief councilor of Australia’s Climate Commission, in a written statement: “As an Australian living with the consequences of gas exploitation, I know that LNG is the wrong pathway to take — from both an environmental and financial perspective.”
A decision from a federal review on the Petronas-led project is expected possibly this summer, then the Trudeau government has the final say.
Like other LNG proposals, none of which has made final investment decisions, Pacific Northwest LNG, a $36-billion project if its pipeline and gas extraction is included, is hoping to tap into energy demand in Asia.
The Trudeau government has already signalled it will take a new approach on climate change.
In late January, the government introduced a requirement for major energy projects to be assessed for carbon emissions related to gas and oil extraction and pipelines, referred to as upstream emissions.
In the past, only the carbon emissions from the manufacturing plant or terminal itself had to be taken into account.
A draft report from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) released in February on the Petronas project estimated greenhouse gas emissions at 5.28 million tonnes for the plant on B.C.’s northwest coast near Prince Rupert and 6.5 to 8.7 million tonnes for upstream emissions from gas extraction, processing and transport on pipelines.
The emissions from the liquefaction plant alone would increase B.C. emissions by 8.5 per cent, and for Canada by 0.75 per cent.
The federal review’s draft report noted the emissions from upstream are not necessarily new, as they could displace shipment to the U.S., for example.
But the plant alone would be one the “largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada,” said CEAA, although it concluded the project should go ahead.
In a response to the draft report, Pacific NorthWest LNG said the review didn’t account for greenhouse emissions that would be displaced by the use of natural gas.
A long-held argument by the nascent LNG industry in British Columbia is that natural gas, with a lower carbon intensity, will replace coal in Asia.
The letter from the 90 scientists said there is no evidence this will happen.
Pacific NorthWest LNG spokesman Spencer Sproule said the project would supply the world’s cleanest LNG to partners in Asia eager to import the same natural gas that British Columbians use.
“Global appetite for LNG will continue to grow over the coming decades with numerous countries, including the United States, racing to meet that global demand,” Spencer said in a written statement.
“There is a clear choice: Canada can move forward with exporting a significantly cleaner product to world markets or let our competitors step into the breach.”
A climate action committee appointed by B.C. Premier Christy Clark has already concluded the province will not meet its target of reducing emissions by one third by 2020 from 2007 levels.
However, the recommendations from the committee, which included environmentalists and academics, did not rule out an LNG industry while meeting a 2050 target for an 80 per cent reduction in emissions.
But that would require reducing fugitive emissions — from leaks, for example — and putting a carbon price on them, and also reducing emissions by using electricity to power LNG plants and other equipment at gas processing plants and pipelines in northeast B.C.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, eager to see a major LNG project go ahead, has not moved on any recommendations from the committee yet.