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(This piece was posted in June 2014.)

Redefining “Insignificant”

At various times since December 2013, public comment periods have been open for six component projects of the LNG export industry proposed for BC’s north coast – three large diameter pipelines of between 650 km and 875 km in length, and the three, massive LNG plants that they would feed.

In a case of “be careful what you ask for…,” public consultation now has a sting in its tail. Documentation for one of the projects tallied more than 9000 pages and was a 9 GB download of multiple files. Binders containing documentation for two of the projects fill 6 metres of shelf space at the Hazelton public library in northern BC. A person interested in making comments could probably find information on any aspect of any given project, with the time available. For one project, perhaps, but for six projects open for comment within as many months? Not likely.

TransCanada Pipelines, Spectra Energy, Royal Dutch Shell, the BG Group, and Petronas each hired armies of geo-techs and bio-techs to create and rush-publish these reports. The provincial and federal agencies charged with overseeing the projects have assigned but a handful of dedicated staff to reviewing each, and, as if to tax the abilities of everyone involved, have ensured that the reports were tabled in a mind-numbing chain reaction of open houses and public comment periods, timed with the business plans of the proponents foremost in mind.

Here’s a shortcut to some smoggy nuggets buried within the six environmental assessments mentioned above. These projects would increase BC’s greenhouse gas emissions by these amounts, referenced to
BC’s 2012 total of 61.5 mega-tonnes: Coastal GasLink pipeline, 6 percent; Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline, 3.2 percent; WestCoast Gas Connector pipeline, 4 percent if one pipeline, 7 percent if two pipelines; Pacific Northwest LNG 8.5 percent, LNG Canada, 19.3 percent; Prince Rupert LNG, 6 percent. These numbers do not include the emissions from obtaining the fracked gas, which are pigeon-holed out of the project assessments. In 2012, BC’s natural gas sector was responsible for 16.5 percent of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions. Any one of the three proposed pipelines would essentially double the amount of natural gas produced and hence double that emissions amount. If all three pipelines were built, as BC Premier, Christy Clark hopes, the pipelines would contribute an extra 49.5 percent increase in emissions from the fracking fields.

In all cases, each assessment justifies each increase in greenhouse gas emissions as acceptable by minimizing it as “insignificant” in comparison to global emissions. That’s a slick attempt to sidestep a minor impediment – a piece of provincial legislation.
The Greenhouse Gas Reductions Target Act stipulates that, by 2020, BC must reduce emissions by 33 percent from 2007 levels. So, never mind what the rest of us do to reduce emissions over that timeframe in order to try and comply with the law, these three pipeline-LNG plant combinations would, when also considering the source emissions from fracking, double BC’s greenhouse gas emissions at about the time that the 33 percent reduction should have been achieved.

Christy Clark saw this hypocrisy in the making in 2012 and attempted to dodge it in part by changing the BC
Clean Energy Act. Under her amendment, natural gas, when burned to power LNG conversion, instantly became a “clean” source of energy, exempt from greenhouse gas reporting. Well, Premier Clark, even if you pretend that the 33.8 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would result from operating these three gas-fired LNG plants did not exist, those emissions would still go skyward and help to cook the planet.

All of the percentages mentioned above use the coefficient for methane of 25 times the effect of CO
2 over a 100-year timeframe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently revised that coefficient to 34, meaning that each of the percentages cited in the environmental assessments needs to be increased by about one-third.

Twelve other LNG plants are proposed for BC. Most would require a new, large volume, fracked gas pipeline (one has been approved) and the attendant source emissions. Despite sections that purportedly assess “Cumulative Effects,” not one of the environmental assessments recently tabled for public comment follows through on the compounding math that so obviously blows The Greenhouse Gas Reductions Target Act out of the water, over the horizon, and into Orwellian doom. Similarly, not one of the assessments bundles the myriad of other so-called “insignificant” impacts – social, marine, freshwater, terrestrial; people, fish, mammals, birds, plants – into a lump that acknowledges that these projects would create monumental change at the landscape level in British Columbia, both environmentally and socially. There is no big picture thinking here; only the view to making a dollar at any cost, and to hell with the people who live in and know those places “beyond Hope,” and who care for them.

Our political leaders, who peddle this sham process as “robust” and “meaningful,” are, more and more cumulatively, either recklessly oblivious or truly full of hot air. Their lack of ethical leadership with regard to the climate change risks and multipliers inherent in BC’s proposed LNG industry is a global peril. Their misrepresentation of their electorate will stand, long after they have gone, as an eternal shame.

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