The federal cabinet decided yesterday to green-light Malaysian state oil company Petronas’ $36-billion bid to build a natural gas collection, liquefaction, and export facility near Prince Rupert, on the British Columbia coast, against warnings that the project would punch holes in the country’s climate goals and endanger local ecosystems.
Hours before the announcement, Indigenous leaders warned the project would face “protracted litigation”.
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The government placed 190 legally binding conditions on the development, one of the largest infrastructure projects in Canadian history—“including, for the first time, the imposition of a condition placing a maximum cap on greenhouse gas emissions,” Canadian Press reports.
“This project was subject to a rigorous environmental assessment and today’s announcement reflects this commitment,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna told media.
“The only way to get resources to market in the 21st century is if they can be done in a responsible and sustainable manner,” she added in a release. “This decision reflects this objective.”
Earlier in the day, federal Opposition leader Rona Ambrose had urged the government to approve the project and embrace the “thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment” it would deliver “at no cost to taxpayers,” CBC reports. “Ambrose would seem here to have defined cost rather narrowly,” retorts Parliamentary correspondent Aaron Wherry. “If, for instance, you attach some value to the natural habitats of wild salmon or the threat posed by greenhouse gas emissions, you might have found the case in favour of Pacific Northwest less obvious.”
Climate and energy groups were scathing in their criticism. “Stand.earth, an environmental organization that touts just how much oil it has helped keep in the ground, called Trudeau’s decision a ‘climate fail,'” Wherry writes. The Dogwood Institute “declared that ‘Trudeau’s climate legacy’ was now ‘on life support.’ The Pembina Institute said it was a ‘step backward for climate action in Canada.'”
In the walk-up to the federal decision, Pembina’s Matt Horne wrote that the Petronas export terminal, as its cash-strapped Malaysian proponent envisions it, will emit nearly twice as much greenhouse gas as other LNG facilities nearby, whose proponents plan to use better equipment.
Writing on iPolitics, Horne castigated the company’s choice to “rely entirely on burning natural gas for the liquefaction process,” when using “a mix of natural gas and electricity,” as another nearby plant proposes, “could be 41% less polluting.”
“There’s no excuse,” Horne noted, “for allowing Pacific NorthWest to proceed with substandard technology. The site is a mere 10 kilometres from the electricity grid. According to BC Hydro’s resource options map, the site is surrounded by renewable energy opportunities.”
Last February, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) released a draft finding that the project’s export facility on Lelu Island, south of Prince Rupert, would not cause serious harm to fish habitat. That report has been contested by scores of scientists, however, and the agency disregarded its own conclusion that the export project and associated gas development would by themselves release nearly 90% of all the greenhouse gas emissions British Columbia has set as its target for mid-century.
Federal approval does not mean the controversial project will necessarily be built. “Last year, the Malaysian state-owned energy company said it would move forward if the federal government approves the project,” CP notes, “but in August it stated that it would have to reassess the project once approval is given.”
CBC’s Wherry closes his report on the decision with a comment on the state of resource development policy in an era of climate constraints.
“It is easy to lament for how fraught these decisions have become or how amorphous the notion of social licence is. But we should also probably not pine for a day when we did not worry about fish habitats, climate change, or Indigenous rights,” he writes.
“This is resource development in the 21st century. Were it possible to go back to the 20th century and properly face the questions of climate change and Indigenous reconciliation, we might not be at this point now. But even if better is always possible, time travel is not.”
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