As the province burns, the BC Government approves the first steps in yet another huge fossil fuel project

Russ Francis
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WHILE FAMILY AND FRIENDS of the 569 British Columbians who died in June as a direct result of runaway global heating were still grieving, the provincial government was quietly approving the initial project plan for another huge fossil fuel facility. 

Producing 12 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas (LNG) annually, Ksi Lisims LNG in northwestern BC will do nothing but increase worldwide emissions, leading to even more extreme heating, more deaths and more unprecedented weather events.

Adding insult to injury, BC taxpayers can expect to cough up additional billions of dollars in subsidies, royalty credits, reduced BC Hydro rates, a sales tax holiday, and cancelled LNG tax for the ill-advised project.


Approving the project, ever-so-quietly

On July 16, 2021, less than three weeks after southwestern BC’s heat dome disaster, the associate deputy minister for BC’s environmental assessment office, Elenore Arend, signed an order approving initial plan for the Ksi Lisims LNG project. The proponents are Texas-based Western LNG, with Canadian partners Rockies LNG, and Nisga’a Nation. The facility will be built at Wil Milit on undeveloped Pearse Island, 80 km north of Prince Rupert, near the Alaskan panhandle. It will sit on Nisga’a land and water, and is estimated to begin production in late 2027 or 2028. The liquefying modules themselves would float offshore.



Pearse Island, BC: A lovely spot for a huge fossil fuel plant? (Photo: Ksi Lisims LNG)


The Ksi Lisims (pronounced “S’lisims”) LNG project is still some distance from final approval, as it has yet to clear other hurdles, including permission to disturb more than 2 hectares of foreshore and underwater land, arrange for a new BC Hydro line, and build a new pipeline from the Montney Basin gas field on the northern BC-Alberta border, to the project site. The island was previously logged, but has seen no industrial activity of the scale of a large LNG facility. While the partners have yet to make a final investment decision, they have already devoted years of work to the venture, as evidenced by a detailed 135-page initial project description they submitted to the federal and BC governments.

Ksi Lisims LNG would be only marginally smaller than the under-construction LNG Canada facility in Kitimat—dubbed the largest infrastructure project in the history of Canada. Yet, in sharp contrast to the hoopla that surrounded the October 2018 announcement of LNG Canada, there was not a peep out of the well-oiled $28.3 million Government Communications and Public Engagement unit. No BC minister gave a speech; there was no statement or news release about Ksi Lisims. Certainly no marching bands or balloons.

Answering questions from Focus, an official in the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, said in a July 27 email: “We are aware of the partnership between the Nisga’a Nation, Rockies LNG and Western LNG for the proposed Ksi Lisims LNG project.”

The government supports LNG development, said the official, provided it guarantees a “fair return” for BC’s natural resources as well as jobs and training opportunities for British Columbians; respects and forms partnerships with First Nations; and “protects BC’s air, land and water, including living up to the Province’s climate commitments.”

The ministry official added that “the environmental assessment process will provide an opportunity for the public to learn more about the environmental, social and economic impacts of the proposed project.”

What about the $6 billion in subsidies, tax deferments and other goodies given to LNG Canada? Would Ksi Lisims get comparable amounts? In a follow-up July 28 email, the official said that Ksi Lisims had yet to ask to be considered under the March 22, 2018 LNG Fiscal Framework. 

“The Ksi Lisims project is still at an early stage of development, and the Province does not generally undertake analysis of potential fiscal implications of a project like Ksi Lisims until a request is made,” said the official. “If a request is made, any information on credits or other tax frameworks specific to the project would not be made public due to commercial confidentiality.”

Despite this, the 2018 LNG Fiscal Framework includes the following statement, near the top: “These measures [i.e. subsidies, tax and hydro breaks] below would apply to the entire LNG sector.”

Western LNG estimates that it will pay $3 billion in local and provincial taxes over Ksi Lisims’ 30-year lifetime, or $100 million per year. The description does not mention whether this is after the billions in tax credits and other benefits available under BC’s LNG financial framework and the royalty tax credit scheme. 

Direct and indirect economic benefits, says the company, would total another $35 billion. 

Western did not point out that there is widespread criticism of so-called “indirect” benefits, which often turn out to be far less than predicted. 

As for those jobs, at least some will be overseas, as is the case for LNG Canada. The project’s liquefaction modules, designed to float offshore, are “constructed in foreign shipyards overseas, to BC and Canadian engineering standards, and then towed into position,” says the project plan. Keep in mind that LNG Canada’s decision to have its modules built in China has been less than a raging success

Adding to the mystery of the missing government news release on the project is the opening by the Environmental Assessment Office and its federal counterpart, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, of a brief period for public comment. Having started August 10, the period closes at midnight on September 24. That gives the impression that the government is pushing this project through, come climate hell or high seas. While I could find nothing from the BC government, the federal government did post a statement August 10 on Newswire, a news release site. The news release was carried by just one newspaper, the Terrace Standard, according to a newspaper database search. Doubtless Terrace residents, as well as the Ksi Lisims proponents know about the “public” comment arrangement. But who else does?

A few weeks following the unheralded approval of the Ksi Lisims LNG initial plan, the August 9 report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that without radical, imminent change in the way we live, humans and other animals are not long for this planet. It’s going to take vastly more than all of us installing heat pumps and switching to EVs. LNG Canada and Ksi Lisims LNG will make it that much more difficult.



A slide from the IPCC’s August 9 presentation accompanying its “Code Red” report 


But perhaps the government doesn’t care about that. Premier John Horgan doesn’t seem to understand the link between fossil fuels and climate change. Responding to the deaths of nearly 600 British Columbians from the heatwave in June,  he stated, “Fatalities are a part of life…The public was acutely aware that we had a heat problem, but it was apparent to anyone who walked outdoors that we were in an unprecedented heat wave and again there’s a level of personal responsibility.”

He certainly wasn’t taking responsibility or admitting that BC’s vast fossil fuel subsidies had helped boost global heating. A few weeks later came the Horgan government’s approval of the initial project plan for Ksi Lisims LNG.


BC’s—and LNG’s—contribution to overheating the Earth

The latest GHG inventory from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), published in April 2021, showed that for the fourth year in a row, BC’s emissions had increased, reaching 65.7 megatonnes (Mt) in 2019, 200,000 tonnes more than in the previous year. Oil and gas extraction increased 230,000 tonnes—meaning that reductions in emissions from light vehicles, for example, were more than counterbalanced by the fossil fuel industry’s increased emissions. Yet 2019 was the first year covered by Clean BC, the government’s plan towards a low-carbon future. 

Neither ECCC nor BC’s Climate Action Secretariat, which publishes the Province’s own inventory, includes in its official total the largest source of GHG emissions: wildfire smoke. In 2018, BC’s wildfire smoke totalled 199.7 Mt, approximately three times as much as the Province’s official GHG total. ECCC’s reasoning? Because along with insect outbreaks, wildfires are “natural disturbances” and are consequently non-anthropogenic—a demonstrably false statement. But even so, it would mean that reducing other high emission contributors—like fossil fuel production—was even more essential to tackling the climate crisis.

Of course, the fossil industry—and the BC Government—love to claim that LNG will displace coal in China as a fuel for producing electricity, pointing out correctly that burning LNG is cleaner than burning coal. For instance, Ksi Lisims partner Western LNG said in a July 19, 2021 statement that environmental benefits of the Project are “extensive.” 

Said the statement: “Replacing coal and oil with LNG exported from Ksi Lisims LNG would result in a reduction of global carbon emissions of more than 45 million tonnes per year, or 1.3 gigatonnes over a 30-year period, which is equivalent to nearly two years of total carbon emissions from Canada.” 

What this claim ignores are the emissions released during extraction, processing, pipeline transport, liquefaction, tanker transport, regasification and transport of the resulting gas to the power plants. For US LNG, the actual burning of gas in an Asian power plant results in just over half (53 percent) of LNG’s life-cycle emissions, according to a detailed analysis published December 8, 2020 by the New York-based Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC). The remaining 47 percent are from everything else. Not only that, the vast LNG infrastructure locks in a fossil fuel source for decades, well beyond the time by which humans need to drastically cut emissions, according to NRDC report co-author Christina Swanson. “Instead of pursuing these white elephant projects, we should be investing in clean-energy technologies, technologies that are genuine climate solutions,” Swanson said in a statement. 



A slide from the IPCC’s August 9 presentation accompanying its “Code Red” report 


The Province of Quebec appears to have heeded such advice. Just a few days after the BC Government gave the go-ahead for the Ksi Lisims LNG plan, Quebec rejected a similar proposal to pipe gas from BC and Alberta, and then liquefy it for export overseas. GNL Quebec planned to spend $14 billion on the project on the Saguenay River. It would have produced 11 Mt of LNG annually, compared with Ksi Lisims’ 12 Mt. Like LNG Canada and Ksi Lisims LNG, it promised jobs, economic stimulus and a reduction in worldwide emissions. But Quebec environment Minister Benoit Charette said his government was not convinced that the plant would reduce greenhouse gases.

“The promoter has not succeeded in demonstrating this—on the contrary,” Charette was quoted as saying in a July 22 Canadian Press story. “This is a project that has more disadvantages than advantages.” He added that LNG would discourage natural gas buyers from switching to cleaner energy—just as environmentalists have argued in connection with LNG Canada.

Charette’s decision was doubtless made easier by a 120,000-signature petition against it, and by the fact that nearly 1,000 scientists, health professionals and economists, three Innu communities, and all opposition parties opposed the project. 

Another claim commonly heard is that Canadians need not worry about reducing emissions, since in 2018 we produced only around two percent of worldwide emissions, according to data published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). While China’s emissions totalled 10.06 gigatonnes (Gt), Canada’s were 0.56 Gt. So why bother doing anything? Let’s continue on the path to destruction, and let the Big Bad Guys do the hard work.

However, on a per capita basis, the tables are turned. We produce more GHG’s per person annually (15.32 tonnes) than all but four other countries, and are not far behind the worst, Saudi Arabia, at 18.48 tonnes. Ours were more than double China’s 7.05 tonnes per capita. It would not be surprising to learn that those in the dozens of countries producing less emissions than Canada per person are saying: Let Canada reduce its emissions first. We’ll continue business as usual. But from the planet’s perspective, Canada, BC and other jurisdictions need to stop passing the buck.


Immediate action needed

In a summary for policy makers accompanying the IPCC’s August 9 stirring “Code Red for Humanity” report, the United Nations agency warned of the planet’s imminent future: “Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

What does that mean for BC? By all means continue Clean BC’s successful subsidies for home energy savings and EVs. But far more is needed, including halting all under-construction and proposed fossil fuel projects. Shut down LNG Canada now, reject Ksi Lisims LNG before any more public time and money is wasted on it, and make it clear that we will consider no more LNG projects. 

Divert the untold billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies, BC Hydro discounts and royalty credits from the dying fossil industry to solar and wind energy. Consider a back-of-the-envelope estimate: If the $6 billion in LNG Canada subsidies and credits were instead put towards solar power, they would pay half the cost of 800,000 typical home installations of photovoltaic solar power. That includes site inspection, the panels, installation, and grid tie-in for a common $15,000 home solar project. The result would be a sharp drop in BC Hydro bills, much smaller transmission lines, and even less need than now for Site C. 

In other words, start supporting the preservation of life on earth.

Russ Francis worries that runaway global heating will make the planet uninhabitable for most non-human animals, none of whom can be regarded as supporting the fossil fuel industry.