British Columbia Premier Christy Clark’s dream of exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia may have gone nowhere—and helped bring her Liberal government to minority status and the brink of defeat—but the province’s natural gas is finding plenty of customers in the United States, DeSmog Canada reports.
“A race to expand B.C. natural gas pipelines and infrastructure” signals “both the death of our LNG export dream, and the dawn of the most ironic resource boom in provincial history,” writes journalist Christopher Pollon. “B.C. natural gas is finally going to be exported overseas by LNG tanker—not from Pacific tidewater, but through Cheniere’s new Sabine River LNG export terminal on the Gulf Coast near Louisiana.”
While Clark’s ambitious forecast that B.C. might soon boast as many as 20 LNG export facilities has fizzled (“it’s widely acknowledged that B.C. came too late to the party,” Pollon comments), several recent announcements indicate growing volumes of gas from the Montney shale formation in the province’s northeast flowing into North American markets.
On June 14, TransCanada Corporation said it “would spend $2 billion to expand its system to connect northern B.C. and Alberta natural gas producers to ‘premium intra-basin and export markets,’” Pollon notes, while Enbridge Inc. said in the same week that its north-south gas connectors “could not meet producer demand.” At least two other companies, Veresen and Pembina Pipeline Corporation, are planning to expand their gas networks in B.C. and Alberta.
Thanks to America’s shale gas boom, centred on the Dakotas’ Bakken and Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shales, “the volume of B.C. and Alberta gas being exported to the U.S. declined for years,” Pollon observes. “But this could be changing.” In the United States, five new LNG ports are expected to open by the end of 2019, quintupling its export capacity to nearly 10 billion cubic feet per day and fueling “a voracious appetite for gas that the bountiful U.S. shale gas fields alone cannot hope to satiate in the decades to come.”
“Not only are they building a lot of LNG export facilities, but U.S. gas production has peaked within the last 12 months and is now declining,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives energy analyst David Hughes told Pollon. “If you look down the road, a huge amount of future production is going to have to come from the Montney, because that is where a major proportion of remaining recoverable gas lies.”
The shift in markets may disappoint some advocates in B.C. coastal communities who hoped to see employment at LNG export terminals that are now unlikely to be built, but the local environment may prove a relative winner. Not only has the likelihood of gas-laden tankers negotiating perilous port-approach channels on the relatively pristine B.C. coast been reduced, along with the attendant risk of spills, so may be the climate impacts of exploiting the province’s gas resource.
Hughes found in 2015 that “burning liquefied, fracked gas exported from B.C. to Asia would ultimately generate emissions similar to coal,” Pollon recalls, “in large part due to the enormously energy-intensive process of cooling the gas to the point it turns into a liquid (-162°C) for export.”
By contrast, the recent availability of cheap shale gas has motivated the construction of 10 gigawatts of new gas-fired generation capacity due to come online in the United States this year, with another 25 GW due in 2018. “To keep these plants up and running into the future, it’s going to take a lot of natural gas,” Pollon argues, “which in this domestic use is definitely cleaner than coal.”