Environmental groups and concerned citizens are decrying the province of Quebec’s refusal to look beyond site-specific concerns in its analysis of a proposed C$9-billion natural gas liquefaction terminal on the Saguenay River.
The GNL Québec project will require the construction of a 780-kilometre natural gas pipeline from Northern Ontario to the Énergie Saguenay terminal site. But that pipeline, along with the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the gas extracted in Alberta, is not included in deliberations by the province’s Environmental Review Board (the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, or BAPE), reports CBC.
As directed by the Quebec government, BAPE is remaining resolutely focused on reviewing only the local impacts of the GNL Québec terminal itself.
Critics are taking little comfort from the fact that pipeline impacts will be analyzed at a later date, writes CBC, instead seeing the decision not to review the project in its entirety as both methodologically flawed and procedurally suspect.
“Having to navigate two separate BAPE procedures goes against the interest of citizens for whom the BAPE was created,” said local advocate Geneviève Richard during an online public hearing held last week. “It represents twice the effort and time from citizens who want to participate.”
Another meeting participant, retired engineering geology professor Marc Durand, said mandating BAPE to discount emissions produced at the site of extraction is an example of “ignoring the elephant in the room,” reports CBC. Disputing GNL Québec’s estimates that “about 1% of its natural gas could leak into the atmosphere during its transit from Alberta to international markets, either during the extraction, transportation, or liquefaction stages,” Durand said such fugitive emissions are more likely to be in the range of 4 to 9%.
Particularly concerning, he added, is the infamously leaky nature of natural gas wells once they are decommissioned. “The industry has never been able to prevent fugitive emissions from these wells,” he said. “Government legislation is two decades behind on this.”
Éric Tétrault, CEO of the Quebec Energy Association, disputed Durand’s estimates, saying they failed to account for investments in new technologies by the oil and gas industry. “Fugitive emissions are overall under control,” he said (notwithstanding ample evidence to the contrary). “We shouldn’t be exaggerating the risks.”
Alluding to GNL Québec’s purported climate-friendly raison d’etre for the Saguenay terminal—that by supplying European and Asian markets with natural gas, the project will help wean the world off coal and thereby “eliminate 28 million tonnes of GHG annually”—Tétrault described the project as “the greatest gesture Quebec could make to reduce GHGs worldwide.”
But the true impact of Énergie Saguenay on global emissions remains unverified, writes CBC. Équiterre Director of Government Relations Marc-André Viau noted that, during the first phase of last month’s BAPE hearings, there were many days when neither experts nor government officials were on hand to answer the public’s questions on that very subject.
“The GHGs were addressed with sweeping statements from the promoter rather than with independent scientific data,” Viau said.
The BAPE hearings over Énergie Saguenay are scheduled to end November 4.