The British Columbia and federal governments are being accused of greenwashing the climate-busting methane emissions behind the province’s widely-touted liquefied natural gas expansion, with B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver—whose three-member legislative caucus is keeping Premier John Horgan’s New Democrats in power—comparing efforts to electrify LNG production to “putting lipstick on a pig”.
National Observer leads off its coverage at the scene of a C$680-million subsidy announcement late last month, where Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau touted a plan to reduce the LNG industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by converting some operations to run on electricity, rather than gas.
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“While the electrification of industry is a broadly positive step to reduce our carbon footprint, public money spent extending the scope and life expectancy of natural gas production in British Columbia is greenwashing at its worst,” Observer writes, citing critics of the plan. Most of the province’s gas wells rely on a hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process that both intentionally and unintentionally releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is shorter-lived than carbon dioxide but 34 times more potent over a 100-year span (and far worse over the 20 years in which rapid decarbonization will be an absolute priority). And multiple recent studies show that unmeasured “fugitive” methane emissions from fracking are much larger than previous research indicated.
“None of this was mentioned in the memorandum of understanding the two governments signed last month,” Observer notes.
“It was so Orwellian. They do not even mention it is fracking,” said Jens Wieting, senior climate and forest campaigner at Sierra Club BC.
“Making no mistakes means that every public dollar spent on energy projects must be in the context of efficiency, renewable energy,” he added. “And not a single dollar can be misused to continue to expand fossil fuel production.”
“There is no reason why taxpayer dollars should be used to accomplish what could be done through regulating the industry,” agreed Julie Levin, Ottawa-based climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence. “With this move, the governments are once again throwing public dollars towards supporting the very industry that is quickly putting the province’s climate targets out of reach.”
At least two federal parties take a rather different view. “By moving to clean power—a process referred to as electrification—we will avoid emissions and position Canada as a supplier of the world’s cleanest natural gas,” Trudeau’s office said in an August 29 statement. As for the NDP, Observer recalls that federal leader Jagmeet Singh declared against fracking—a move that put him at odds with his provincial allies—after his party lost an early May byelection to Green candidate Paul Manly in the B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith.
The Observer report landed in the same week that new data showed B.C.’s greenhouse gas emissions barely falling at all in the 11 years after it introduced its widely-touted carbon tax, the Globe and Mail reports. Climate hawks said the figures for 2017 reflected seven years of provincial inaction, while demonstrating that carbon pricing is just one tool in a wider toolbox—and can’t bring about rapid, deep emission reductions on its own.
“You need to keep strengthening your policies or doing new policies if you’re going to keep addressing climate change,” said Clean Energy Canada Executive Director Merran Smith, adding that climate action in B.C. hasn’t kept up with population and industry growth.
While the province’s carbon tax had an initial impact, “it’s not the only thing we need to do,” agreed Ian Bruce, director of science and policy at the David Suzuki Foundation. Bruce cited electric vehicles, cleaner fuels for homes and buildings, and promoting the use of clean electricity for industry as “other necessary measures,” the Globe writes, adding that “B.C.’s interest in liquefied natural gas, or LNG, might be out of step with the province’s potential to lead in the clean energy economy.”