Kwispaa LNG Project Moves Ahead

$18 billion LNG export project for the west coast of Vancouver Island submits project description to environmental assessment agencies

Gavin MacRae

Photo by Ken Hodge CC, cropped from original

The Kwispaa LNG project proposed for the west coast of Vancouver Island took a step forward by submitting a project description to the Canadian and BC environmental assessment agencies. The deadline for public input on whether the project will require a full federal environmental assessment is fast approaching: November 18.

Proposed is a 730 hectare natural gas liquefaction and export facility on Sarita Bay, about 45 kilometres south-southwest of Port Alberni. Split two-thirds on land, one-third floating on the ocean, the facility would export an estimated 24 million tons of liquid natural gas per year at full build-out, requiring six to seven LNG carrier ships weekly.

Kwispaa LNG is a partnership project by Steelhead LNG of Vancouver and Huu-ay-aht First Nation.

To supply the project with gas, a 1000 kilometre pipeline is also proposed. Starting in northeastern BC near Chetwynd, the pipeline would thread across the province to the ocean at Powell River using “new and existing corridors,” then cross under the Salish Sea to Comox, and finally overland again to Sarita Bay.

Discussion of the pipeline in the project description is a scant two paragraphs. Kwispaa states the pipeline would undergo a separate environmental review, despite being integral to the export facility. Steelhead Natural Gas Pipelines Ltd, a separately owned subsidiary of Steelhead LNG, would build the pipeline.

Kwispaa LNG is “working with BC Hydro to explore options to power the project with electricity provided from the provincial grid.” The main bid is for a new 90 kilometre long transmission line starting at a substation 20 kilometres northwest of Qualicum Beach, and traversing Vancouver Island to the export terminal.

The project’s full sticker price is pegged at $18 billion.

In the project description, Kwispaa LNG promises a “commitment to produce world-leading outcomes in respect of the environment, where economically and technically feasible [emphasis added].”

“World-leading outcomes” may not be feasible.

To avoid climate change kicking into overdrive past 1.5°C, rapid decarbonization across all sectors is urgently needed, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A first step toward this is to halt new fossil fuel infrastructure. Kwispaa LNG hope to break ground around 2020. With a four year build time and a projected 25 year lifespan, the project would lock-in carbon emissions until nearly 2050.

The LNG industry mantra that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” toward renewable energy is being increasingly challenged.

Then there’s the extraction. The natural gas supply for the project would be sourced almost exclusively from fracked wells. Each well would consume millions of gallons of water, along with chemicals, to pry open the rock formations and release methane gas. Fracking is so destructive it is subject to moratoriums or banned outright in many countries including Germany, Scotland, Uruguay, and Wales, due to concerns over water contamination and earthquakes.

And don’t forget fugitive methane emissions. Without strict regulatory oversight, emissions from methane leaked during production and along the production chain can dwarf those reported by industry. How robust is BC’s regulatory oversight? Not very, according to a study by the David Suzuki Foundation and St. Francis Xavier University. A survey of over 1,600 wells in northeastern BC found methane leaks “at least 2.5 times higher than reported by the B.C. government.”

Methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2, but it packs a punch while it’s there. “Methane is much more potent than CO2,” said David Hughes, a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute. “Over 20 years, the latest estimates are about 90 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and over 100 years it’s a little over 30 [times more potent].”

The LNG industry mantra that natural gas is a “bridge fuel” toward renewable energy is being increasingly challenged. Hughes said that accounting for full cycle emissions – from fracking, transport, liquefaction, shipping, and regasification – BC LNG comes out 27% over emissions relative to modern ultra-supercritical coal plants in a 20 year projection. Over 100 years, BC LNG would create seven percent fewer emissions than coal (because methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide). But, said Hughes, “We don’t have 100 years to wait.”

In an interview for the National Observer, Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, said LNG facilities in BC will not help China transition off of coal power (where much of the LNG demand is anticipated), but instead prolong China’s reliance on fossil fuels. “It’s going in the opposite direction that we should be going,” said Jacobson. “It’s definitely a bad thing for people’s health, for climate and for jobs.” In comparison, an analysis of a 100% clean energy scenario in 139 countries, by Jacobson, found renewables would create 24 million jobs around the world.

Kwispaa may be a huge project, but it’s only one of many in BC being pondered by investors. An analysis by Tarika Powell of the Sightline Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Seattle, found that were all the BC LNG projects under consideration by the province to be realized, BC’s greenhouse gas emissions would more than double. As it stands, deeper cuts will be needed in all sectors besides oil and gas to meet provincial emissions targets if the LNG projects moving forward are built.

Despite all the reasons not to build Kwispaa, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency isn’t even sure if the project warrants a federal environmental assessment. The public have until November 18 to comment.

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