Now that the federal government has approved Pacific NorthWest LNG, the controversial gas liquefaction facility on Lelu Island, the devil is in the details.
On Sept. 27. the federal government imposed 190 conditions on the $11.4 billion plant, which would refine gas from Northeast B.C. for shipment to Asia.
The conditions include rules for construction and operations around Flora Bank, a sensitive salmon habitat, as well as a cap on total emissions from the project.
Federal conditions also create environmental monitoring committees “comprised of Indigenous peoples and federal and provincial representatives, for the first time ever,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said at a news conference in Richmond.
Some, including Northeast B.C. MP Bob Zimmer, said the conditions could be designed to make the project unfeasible—potentially avoiding a political headache for Justin Trudeau's Liberals.
While Pacific NorthWest can now move forward, Malaysian energy giant Petronas and its partners still need to review the project to see if it makes economic sense under the conditions.
“Approving this project is one thing, building it is completely another,” Zimmer said in the House of Commons Sept. 28. “Why did the Liberals put potential poison pills in the approval with unnecessary conditions?”
Many of the conditions aim to prevent impacts on fisheries. Among the concerns are that the project’s around-the-clock construction schedule could create 24-hour daylight conditions for nearby salmon populations.
The 190 conditions include:
- limiting underwater pile driving noise to 207 decibels to avoid impacts on fish
- restrictions on lighting during construction, including a requirement to “place reflective material on the underside of over-water infrastructure to reduce the light/dark contrast on marine waters.”
- fisheries assessments for Northern Abalone and other species, as well as followup monitoring
- specific emissions intensity guidelines on each LNG “train” to minimize impacts on air quality
B.C. has also agreed to support the upcoming federal climate change plan, and has committed to raising its $30 a tonne tax on carbon concurrently with other provincial governments.
Warren Brazier, an energy lawyer with Watson Goepel, said emissions will likely be the biggest hurdle for the project going forward.
Because the project would burn its own natural gas for power (it would not be connected to the mostly-renewable BC Hydro grid), it would be one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Canada.
While Canada has set a cap on emissions at the plant itself, none of the conditions specifically regulate emissions that come from hydraulic fracturing for the gas in Northeast B.C.—despite pledges in a press release that B.C. will work to reduce those emissions through electrification.
Greenhouse gasses from oil and gas extraction and production account for around 17 per cent of B.C.’s overall emissions.
Brazier said that while B.C. has committed to reducing upstream emissions in its Climate Leadership Plan, Petronas would not be obligated to do so under the conditions set on Pacific NorthWest.
That makes any plan to reduce upstream emissions “aspirational,” he said.
“There’s nothing about electrification of the upstream by B.C.,” he said. “There’s no regulation on methane, there’s no electrification of extraction mentioned in the conditions on the proponent.”
Supporters of the project, on the other hand, say LNG would be a net benefit for the climate by providing fuel for Asian countries to transition from coal.
Pacific NorthWest LNG said its partners plan to review the conditions on the project and make a final investment decision in the coming months.