The world’s largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) conference kicked off on Monday, July 10, 2023 in Vancouver, and with it comes uncertainty over the long-term viability of gas export projects in development in Canada.

The conference, which ran until Thursday, July 13, took place as multiple LNG projects are in the early stages of development on the West Coast, including the First Nations-led Cedar LNG in Kitimat, B.C., that will export gas to Asian markets. The Haisla Nation is invested in the project.

The next two to three years will be critical in deciding the fate of Cedar LNG, Robert Johnston, executive director at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, said in an interview with Canada’s National Observer.

“That’s when you get financing,” he added. 

On Tuesday, it was announced in a press release that Johnston will also be the lead advising researcher for the First Nations Climate Initiative, a B.C.-based forum composed of Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, Nisga’a and Haisla First Nations created to fight against poverty and climate change.

Johnston, alongside other researchers and industry CEOs, will advise the First Nations Climate Initiative’s international advisory committee, which will research and advise on LNG exports to Asia, including a demand-side outlook for the continent, decarbonization and the global competitive market that includes petro-state producers like Russia and Qatar.

Ultimately, it will be the decisions of investors, their gamble on whether there is long-term viability for gas exports to Asia and that continent’s energy transition, Johnston added.

LNG Canada, another LNG export facility in Kitimat, is currently 85 per cent completed. The project is a joint venture between Shell PLC, Petronas Nasional Berhad, PetroChina Co. Ltd., Mitsubishi Corp. and the Korea Gas Corp.

It’s unclear if similar large Asian gas corporations will invest in Cedar LNG, too, but Johnston said gas import infrastructure already exists in gas- and coal-dependent countries like Japan, Taiwan, Korea and China.

It also remains to be seen whether other coal-dependent countries in Asia like India, Indonesia and Vietnam will invest in LNG infrastructure or instead hopscotch to clean energy like renewables. Currently, the most important consideration for those countries is price, and coal’s cost has remained low due to the war in Ukraine, Johnston said.

Many countries in Asia have built coal plants within the past decade or two, raising questions over the next steps in an energy transition that is demanding a steep drop in greenhouse gas emissions in the near future.

Meanwhile, some Asian countries face challenges in cleaning up their energy mix due to limited space for large wind and solar farms, Johnston said.

Nuclear development is also expanding in places like China, but it remains controversial in Korea and Japan after the Fukushima disaster, Johnston explained.

In Japan, for example, dependency on natural gas spiked following the nuclear disaster in 2011, which idled many of its nuclear plants, Reuters reports.

However, as Asian countries aim for net-zero emissions by 2050 — or 2060, for China — it’s not a given that natural gas will remain viable in those markets. Other energy sources could replace gas as nations work to fulfil their climate obligations. That’s why Johnston says long-term projections are uncertain, with different scenarios showing different outcomes.

But as of right now, there are still long-term gas contracts being signed, Johnston said.

“Will those be white elephants up to 20, 30, 40 years from now?” Johnston asks. “Possibly, but these contracts are designed to share that risk between buyer and seller.”

Fossil fuels like natural gas and coal are both significant propellants of climate change, which has seen global temperatures reach record highs over the past week.

On Tuesday, climate activists from Frack Free BC staged a die-in outside the LNG conference over the oil and gas industry’s role in worsening climate disasters like extreme heat waves, droughts and other weather phenomena taking place more often and more severely than in previous decades.

Frack Free BC also points to the fracking needed to extract much of Canadian LNG for export, arguing the method for extracting oil and gas is as bad for the climate as coal. The group also notes methane, the primary component in natural gas, is 84 to 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Countries like the United Kingdom, France and Australia have already banned fracking over earth tremors and environmental concerns, like the heavy energy output needed to extract products.

“Oil and gas companies have spent billions of dollars lobbying politicians and peddling lies about clean gas,” Alexandra Woodsworth, director of organizing at Dogwood, a B.C. environmental non-profit, said in a press release.

“The research is crystal clear: there’s no room for new LNG if the world [wants to meet] its climate commitments. Any politician who claims otherwise is just helping the industry greenwash its image.”

By Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 13, 2023

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

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