Calls from climate advocates to follow the lead of the United States and pause Canadian liquified natural gas projects face a serious challenge: a promise of economic reconciliation tied to capital and liquified natural gas (LNG) development.

Biden’s move to pause LNG approvals until after the November elections was celebrated by the climate movement in the U.S. and at home. But coastal First Nations leading LNG projects say the facilities will boost their communities’ prosperity. With industry partners, Haisla Nation is developing Cedar LNG and Ksi Lisims is proposed by the Nisga’a.

The two First Nations argue the projects will contribute enough revenue to ensure independence from Ottawa to deliver crucial social services and foster future investment for their people.

It’s essentially about becoming self-sufficient, Candice Wilson, environmental manager for Haisla First Nation, said in a previous interview. “We can be self-governing, provide services on our own and not have the limitations of policy and regulation that the federal government implements.”

But other First Nations in the region are worried about the expanding LNG development.

The Gitanyow hereditary chiefs are “quite concerned” about how the proposed Ksi Lisims project will affect Gitanyow salmon, as well as the  overall climate repercussions, said Tara Marsden, Wilp sustainability director for the nation.

Marsden declined to comment on Cedar LNG, the Haisla-led project, because the development sits outside Gitanyow ancestral territory. Ksi Lisims also sits outside Gitanyow territory, but an important salmon spawning ground in the nass estuary that can be affected by Ksi Lisims does sit within Gitanyow territory.

However, Gitanyow has heard concerns from Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs, Marsden said. Previously, Gitanyow stood in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en over the construction of Coastal Gaslink pipelines, land dispossession and militarized police, she noted. Community members worry that a similar approach will be taken on Gitanyow territory, she added.

“There’s a lot to learn from that as we look to Ksi Lisims,” she said. If the province approves the LNG project, construction of a pipeline extension would run through Gitanyow territory. 

The tension between the nations comes at a time when the two communities have found themselves in court over a territory dispute stemming from Nisga’a’s modern treaty.

Environmental critics of the LNG expansion worry that it increases and prolongs fossil fuel usage in a world that needs to end new planet-warming projects that risk teetering our climate above a dangerous two-degree tipping point, a target set out in the Paris Accord.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas.

Biden’s move to pause LNG approvals arrives at a time when the United States has found itself as the global leader in exports, in large part due to an expanding fracked gas industry coupled with a spike in European gas demand ignited by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

The White House pause will allow for the first review of LNG by Washington since 2018. At that time, the export capacity was 4 billion cubic feet per day. Since then, it has tripled and is set to rise by 2030 with projects under construction, according to Reuters

Meanwhile, Canadian gas production continues to rise alongside its American ally. By the end of 2022, Canada exported around 8 billion cubic feet per day, according to Canada’s energy regulator.

In response to Biden’s decision, the B.C. government seems to be holding ground on their LNG expansion plans. In a statement to Canada’s National Observer, the province argues they are in a different position than the United States, pointing to their “revitalized and robust” environmental assessment act and climate strategy.

The provincial government points to reductions in emissions in the oil and gas industry through its CleanBC Roadmap, which outlines reductions in methane emissions by 75 per cent from 2014 levels and “virtually eliminating them by 2035.”

It’s unclear how effectively the province will be able to eliminate methane emissions from LNG projects, given their lifespan extends past 2050. The province points to electrification through renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, and relying on oil and gas caps to mitigate climate impacts of the emerging LNG industry.

However, critics think investing in electrifying a fossil fuel industry simply prolongs the inevitable decline of an industry that continues to overheat the Earth.

“The marketing pitch is that this is a net-zero product, which is factually not true,” said John Young, B.C. transition analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation.

LNG, particularly the flagship LNG Canada faciltiy, will be “Canada’s biggest climate problem and largest emitter and will make achieving B.C.’s climate targets essentially impossible,” said Young.

Investing heavily in LNG which has a 40-year lifespan is economic madness, especially with projections pointing to LNG demand peaking in 2030, he added. It’s still unclear how steep the decline will be following 2030.

However, the provincial government’s approval of the Haisla Nation’s Cedar LNG environmental assessment shows that the province can have “development that fits within strong climate targets and benefits people and First Nations,” a statement from B.C.’s ministry of environment and climate change said.

Young notes the project seems inevitable. He is hearing from sources that the province is planning a financial package for the Haisla-led project that will be located beside LNG Canada in Kitimat.

It’s still unclear if the Nisga’a-led Ksi Lisims will be approved, but the province notes the project plans to be net-zero, and will need to meet that requirement in the environmental assessment later this year. Ksi Lisims has already made a proposed sale with an Asian purchaser earlier this month. Shell Eastern Trading of Singapore has invested to lock down a fifth of Ksi Lisims gas production.

Not all First Nations in the province support the LNG development. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow Biden’s lead in a press release published by Stand.Earth.

“The continued support and growth in the so-called ‘green energy’ LNG industry contributes to the environmental and climate devastation raging in this province and around the world, particularly by Indigenous communities,” Phillip said in the release.

Given the rapidly changing conditions of the climate crisis, Marsden, representing the Gitanyow hereditary chiefs, said Biden made “a wise decision” to pause LNG development to get all the “facts on the table” surrounding the climate and environmental impacts.

Canada’s National Observer has contacted Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada and coastal First Nations for comment, but didn’t hear back by time of publication. 

Matteo Cimellaro / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative

By Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jan 30, 2024 at 12:30

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario

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