Last year was the hottest in recorded history and British Columbia’s worst-ever wildfire season, with so-called “zombie fires” still smouldering this winter. Much of the province remains in extreme drought conditions, with farmers facing another year of crop losses and the prospect of having to cull livestock. Wild salmon populations across the province continue to decline,  sending ripple effects through coastal and interior ecosystems. 

The United Nations is unequivocal about the cause.

“Fossil fuels — coal, oil and gas — are by  far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for  over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per  cent of all carbon dioxide emissions,” the international body notes on  its website

B.C. is on the cusp of exponentially increasing its methane and carbon emissions as liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects get underway.  The gas, commonly extracted from underground deposits through a process  called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is then cooled to -160 C to  take a denser liquid form that’s easier to transport. It is mostly  composed of methane, which is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period in terms of heating the planet. 

At the end of the Douglas Channel, a  100-kilometre inlet on B.C.’s north coast, a massive change is taking  shape. Soon, the first gas liquefaction and export facility to be built  in Canada will light up the night sky as it starts operations with a  dramatic flare of burning gas. LNG Canada is poised to bring its processing plant online in Kitimat, B.C., receiving gas from the province’s northeast via the Coastal GasLink pipeline and readying it for shipping across the Pacific Ocean.

As it does, B.C. will enter a new chapter of industrial development, kicking off a long-promised boom and  potentially paving the way for further expansion of the province’s  fossil fuel sector. 

Here’s what you need to know about five projects underway and proposed in the northwest. 

1. LNG Canada: climate questions remain as B.C.’s first major LNG export facility gets ready to ship mid-decade

LNG Canada is owned by a consortium of foreign corporations: Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, Mitsubishi and Korea Gas. 

Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas is gearing  up to exploit its tenures in what’s known as the Montney Formation, a  vast underground shale complex about the size of New Brunswick and Nova  Scotia combined. The Montney lies under Treaty 8 First Nations’  territories in both B.C. and Alberta. Petronas will supply LNG Canada  with most of the gas and the Chinese, Japanese and South Korean  companies are ready to receive shipments. Shell Canada, a subsidiary of  Royal Dutch Shell, is stickhandling the rest, navigating government  policies and regulations and negotiating what has amounted to billions of dollars in provincial and federal subsidies.

Teresa Waddington, a senior executive with LNG Canada, said the project is playing a major role in providing jobs  and economic benefits to British Columbians.

“I’ve seen the signatures in Sharpies on  the underside of pipes, inside the vessels and all the other places  where these Canadians are demonstrating their pride in being part of the  building and bringing an entirely new industry to Canada,” she said at  the BC Natural Resources Forum in Prince George in January. “The time is  now and we are almost there. It is remarkable.” 

Waddington added the project will produce  LNG “at one of the lowest greenhouse gas [intensities] in the world  today,” comparing it to similar facilities in operation in the U.S. and  other countries.

LNG Canada was approved by B.C. to power its plant by burning gas and holds a 40-year export licence  issued by the Canada Energy Regulator. The project, if it proceeds at  full capacity as approved for the next four decades, will add more than  500 megatonnes of equivalent carbon emissions to the Earth’s atmosphere,  according to analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. That’s more than the entire remaining carbon budget allocated to Switzerland for the rest of the century. 

When factoring in the extraction, pipeline transportation and cooling of the liquefied natural gas that LNG Canada will ship, B.C.’s reductions targets  — to lower emissions by 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030 and reach  net-zero by 2050 — are virtually impossible to achieve. Those targets,  part of the province’s CleanBC plan, came into effect after the project  was approved by former premier Christy Clark’s government. 

LNG proponents often point to how the gas  can help countries like China, Japan and Korea reduce reliance on other  fossil fuels, such as coal, leading to a reduction in global emissions.  That argument is contested by climate scientists who maintain methane emitted during the extraction, processing and transport of the fossil fuel, including leaks at every step of the process,  make LNG worse for the climate than coal. Critics also argue there’s no  proof that gas exported from B.C. will be used to displace coal.

The consortium of companies behind LNG Canada is eyeing electrification, which would significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. But  powering the facility with clean energy would divert much-needed power  away from other sectors.

“If they were going to try to reduce their  emissions using electricity, and they did that upstream, along the  pipeline and at the plant, they would need about two Site C [dams] worth  of electricity,” Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy  Canada, told The Narwhal in a previous interview.

BC Hydro recently put out a call for new power proposals, which could include reviving long-languishing wind and solar projects. B.C. Premier David Eby announced  in January the province was giving the public utility $36 billion to  build out community and regional infrastructure over the next decade.

“We must expand our electrical system like  never before, to power industrial development, to power our homes and  businesses, to power our future,” Eby said.

The liquefaction and export facility will  begin its “commissioning” activities this year to ready the plant for  full-scale operations. A spokesperson with LNG Canada told The Narwhal  some of those activities have already started.

“At this time, we don’t have a hard date  for start-up activities, but they are expected to begin this year,” the  spokesperson wrote in an email. “Start-up activities (testing of systems  and sub-systems where natural gas is introduced) will include flaring.  Local residents and stakeholders will be advised prior to the  commencement of activities such as flaring.”

2. Coastal GasLink: mechanically completed,  the controversial pipeline is poised to start shipping gas across  northern B.C., including through Wet’suwet’en territory

Before the gas can be shipped from the  liquefaction facility, it needs to be transported across the province  via the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Coastal GasLink will transport 2.1  billion cubic feet of gas to LNG Canada daily to start, doubling that  amount if the liquefaction facility goes ahead with its approved plans  for a second phase. 

In November, Coastal GasLink  announced it had finished building its pipeline, the first to connect  underground shale formations in B.C.’s northeast to marine shipping  routes on the Pacific coast in decades. Under the terms of its  environmental assessment certificate, the pipeline company will now  conduct reclamation activities along the 670-kilometre project.

During construction, the pipeline project, built by Alberta-based TC Energy, was marred by controversy, delays and  cost overruns. Coastal GasLink has cost more than double its original  estimate, with a final price tag of around $14.5 billion. TC Energy is a  minority shareholder, after selling most of its shares  in 2020 to U.S.-based KKR Investments and the Alberta Investment  Management Corporation (AIMCo), a Crown corporation that manages $160  billion of the province’s public pension, endowment and government  funds. TC Energy also inked an agreement with 16 elected First Nations governments in 2022, giving them the option to collectively buy a 10 per-cent equity share of the pipeline. 

Since starting construction in 2019, the project has repeatedly failed to meet environmental regulations,  earning the company more than $800,000 in fines levied by the B.C.  government, to date. Those failures have resulted in impacts to wild  salmon habitat, endangered whitebark pine and sensitive wetlands that  support innumerable species.

As TC Energy navigated challenges and  criticism, the pipeline company regularly maintained its work was  permitted and regulated by provincial and federal authorities. 

“Coastal GasLink is a complex project and  is subject to some of the most stringent regulatory requirements in the  world,” the company told The Narwhal last year. “Coastal GasLink  respects the role our regulators have in upholding the high regulatory  standards we are committed to meeting. Those high standards matter to  Indigenous and local communities, to the people of British Columbia and  they matter to us.”

The pipeline has faced strong opposition  from Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and their supporters since its  approval in 2014. Despite the province and the pipeline company signing  deals with five of six elected band councils, neither received consent from the Hereditary Chiefs, whose authority and jurisdiction over the 22,000-square-kilometre territory was affirmed in a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling in 1997. 

When the Hereditary Chiefs and their  supporters tried to prevent the pipeline from being built across the  territory, the company successfully petitioned the B.C. Supreme Court  for an injunction against anyone interfering with construction. The  ensuing conflicts led to more than 80 arrests of Wet’suwet’en land defenders and their supporters, allegations of RCMP misconduct and international scrutiny. Court proceedings are ongoing.

3. Prince Rupert Gas Transmission: once a ‘pipeline to nowhere’, construction on TC Energy’s approved  900-kilometre project could be getting underway this year

As work on Coastal GasLink winds down, TC  Energy could be getting ready to start building another gas pipeline  across the north. 

The Prince Rupert Gas Transmission  project would connect Montney gas to Ksi Lisims, a proposed  liquefaction and export facility on Nisga’a territory. Approved by the  B.C. government around the same time as Coastal GasLink, the pipeline  would span around 900 kilometres and cross the Kispiox and Skeena rivers  and traverse Nilkitkwa Lake at the headwaters of the Babine River.  The project was originally approved to supply Pacific NorthWest LNG, a  Petronas liquefaction facility that was to be built on Lelu Island, near  Prince Rupert, B.C. The Malaysian-owned company pulled the plug on its project  in 2017, stranding the pipeline — until now. If all goes ahead, TC  Energy would shorten its approved route by around 100 kilometres.

TC Energy has until the end of 2024 to put  enough work into the project to receive a “substantially started”  designation, which would secure its environmental assessment certificate  indefinitely.

“At this preliminary stage, we are focused  on evaluating regulatory and future options, which would be subject to  further agreements being entered into,” TC Energy told Natural Gas World in October. “No final investment decisions have been made.”

Shannon McPhail, executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said the B.C. government  should reexamine its approval of the project in light of climate and  biodiversity. 

“Everyone agrees we are in a climate  crisis,” she told The Narwhal in an interview. “Everyone agrees that we  are at risk of biodiversity loss and we will likely experience ecosystem  collapse. And all of that is being perpetuated by things that are  lawfully and legally permitted by our governments.”

McPhail continually called on provincial  and federal regulators to hold TC Energy accountable during the  construction of Coastal GasLink and alleges the various government  agencies failed their mandates to protect ecosystems, including fish  habitat. 

As The Narwhal recently reported, the B.C. Energy Regulator signed off on numerous alleged environmental infractions and Fisheries and Oceans Canada withheld related information from the public and media  on multiple occasions. McPhail said northern watersheds are at a  tipping point and any more pressures could send ecosystems into an  irreversible spiral, impacting communities throughout the region. 

“We’re in a drought province-wide,” she  said. “People’s wells in the Kispiox Valley are drying up — they can’t  water their livestock and they haven’t had enough snow for livestock to  eat or drink. There’s no way we can balance the Prince Rupert Gas  Transmission pipeline project to be built through all of this forest  when we’re predicted to have a wildfire season worse than last year.”

4. Ksi Lisims: the Nisga’a-led liquefaction  and export facility continues through B.C.’s environmental assessment  process as neighbouring First Nations and communities raise concerns 

According to Nisga’a Nation President Eva  Clayton, Ksi Lisims offers a “transformational opportunity” for the  nation to build its economy. The proposed project, a floating gas  liquefaction and export facility that would be built near the village of  Gingolx, is led by the Nisga’a Nation in partnership with a consortium  of B.C. and Alberta gas producers and a Texas-based LNG company.

“The Nisga’a Nation has long tried to  establish an economic base in the Nass Valley,” Clayton said at the  natural resources forum in Prince George. “And [Ksi Lisims] is one that  we want to do in a way that agrees with our principles and our values,  as we live in harmony with our lands and we move forward with building  that economic base.”

Last year, Nisga’a and its partners signed an agreement with TC Energy for the pipeline supply and in early January, Ksi Lisims signed a 20-year agreement with Shell to sell two million tonnes of LNG annually to the fossil fuel giant. If  approved, the liquefaction facility would process and ship 12 million  tonnes per year. It plans to use electricity supplied by BC Hydro to  cool the gas, though it is unclear how the public utility would generate  enough power to meet the project’s needs and continue providing  electricity to other sectors. 

The proposed project is currently  undergoing environmental assessment. During a recent public comment  period on Ksi Lisims’ application to the government, the province’s  Environmental Assessment Office received 536 submissions,  many expressing concerns about the project’s potential impacts to  climate, species like salmon, other ecological impacts and the  Indigenous Rights of interior and coastal First Nations. Even the City  of Terrace — no stranger to industrial development; long a hub for  mining and forestry activities — weighed in with concerns that the  influx of activity associated with LNG Canada put considerable strain on  communities without providing any substantial economic benefits, noting  that pattern would likely repeat if Ksi Lisims is built.

The proponent will now revise its  application for government review and the public will have one more  opportunity to weigh in before a decision is made.

5. Cedar LNG: Haisla chief councillor says the Kitimat-based floating LNG plant represents a ‘path to achieve healing’

Last March, the B.C. government approved Cedar LNG,  a partnership between the Haisla Nation and Pembina Pipeline  Corporation. Touted as the first Indigenous-majority-owned LNG facility  (Ksi Lisims could be the second), the floating liquefaction and export  terminal would be built on the Douglas Channel across from the Haisla  village of Kitamaat, a few kilometres from LNG Canada. 

Cedar LNG will also receive gas from  Coastal GasLink and plans to export three million tonnes annually, about  30 per cent of what its larger neighbour LNG Canada plans to ship  during its first phase. 

Crystal Smith, Haisla’s elected chief  councillor, got emotional as she addressed attendees at the Prince  George conference. She said collaborating with LNG Canada, and advancing  the nation’s own project, is starting to address an economic imbalance  between settlers and Indigenous peoples.

“Something I’m profoundly impacted by is  our ability to fund the programs that really connect our people to their  culture and our language, a language that has virtually disappeared in  my generation,” she said. “We are reigniting our potential through  culture and language and that is perhaps the most powerful thing of all.  When I think of my daughter speaking Haisla with my grandchildren, that  is what drives me each and every day.”

Cedar LNG, to Smith, represents a shift away from a long history of exploitation of resources by colonizers  towards a more equitable and collaborative approach. 

This was a common thread throughout the  conference. While the gathering was awash with land acknowledgements and  talk of partnerships and collaboration with First Nations, an  undercurrent of leveraging social license to support industrial  development buoyed discussions. Gaining that social license and creating  those partnerships could result in channelling much-needed benefits to  First Nations, long left out of the resource sector and forced into  poverty by colonial genocide. 

Smith said Haisla’s role as owner of the project represents the beginning of a new chapter for First Nations.

“While our focus right now is advancing  Cedar LNG, that is not the end of our journey,” she said. “It is the  start of how we want to work together to advance reconciliation and  achieve equality for Indigenous Peoples everywhere.”

“I am as unapologetic today as I was when I  say that economic development and reconciliation is the path to achieve  healing for our people.”

By Matt Simmons, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 14, 2024 at 09:26

This item reprinted with permission from   The Narwhal   Victoria, British Columbia

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