The effects on air quality from the release of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants will probably be a key component of an upcoming environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the proposed Woodfibre LNG plant, an expert on the impacts of such facilities said recently.
After Premier Christy Clark, along with Squamish Mayor Rob Kirkham and Squamish Nation Chief Bill Williams, toured a facility in China in late November, the premier took to Twitter to tout the Jiangsu Rudong LNG port as the place “where Squamish will connect with China.”
Clark’s tweet was the latest salvo in the B.C. government’s campaign to promote the production of natural gas, its conversion into liquid form and transport to Asian markets as one of the province’s future economic drivers.
The industry — including proponents of the Woodfibre LNG facility, which would export some 2.1 million tonnes of the liquid per year from the site of the old Woodfibre pulp mill beginning as early as 2017 — has promoted LNG as less environmentally problematic than other fossil fuels.
There’s some truth in that assessment, said Dr. Thomas Gunton, director of resource and environmental planning at the school of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University.
LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to around -162 degrees C to turn it into a liquid, which takes up about 1/600th the volume of the natural gas, according to Wikipedia. The cooled liquid is then transported to market on special, cryogenic sea vessels and re-converted into a gas when ready for use.
Processing, storing, loading and transporting LNG isn’t like doing the same for petroleum products, Gunton said.
“If there is a leak, the gas evaporates — it doesn’t get into the water and cause pollution damage,” he said.
However, that doesn’t mean such a facility comes without impacts, he said.
It takes energy to run the conversion and storage facility. If natural gas is used, about seven or eight per cent of the gas that arrives at the plant will probably be needed for that purpose, Gunton said. The burning of natural gas emits sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates, he said.
On their website, Wood-fibre LNG proponents say the facility would be visited by three or four ocean-going vessels per month. The diesel fuel burned by those vessels would also add pollutants to Squamish’s airshed, Gunton said.
Early projections of the airshed in Kitimat have shown that with the 20-million-tonne LNG facility that’s in the works there, along with all the other industrial uses either there now or in the works, the airshed will exceed federal air-quality guidelines, Gunton said.
On the Woodfibre LNG proposal, “The provincial government should do a full airshed management review that assesses the impacts on [the Squamish] area,” he said. “That’s what we’ve found on the North Coast so far — that the greatest impact is on the air quality.”
One of the biggest concerns raised about Woodfibre LNG is its potential to impact the ongoing recovery of Howe Sound’s aquatic environment. Gunton said that while an LNG spill would have minimal impact on water quality, “the air pollutants like sulphur dioxide can get into the water and cause acidity.
“Also, there’s an impact from ballast water potentially being discharged [from the ships],” he said. “They’re not supposed to [discharge their ballast in coastal waters], but there are other kinds of discharges from tankers, and there are other pollutants from those tankers that would need to be monitored.”
Gunton also raised economic questions about the B.C. government’s push toward LNG. If all or even most are built, the number of new LNG processing and export facilities planned worldwide will far exceed what’s needed to meet the projected market demand, he said.
As a potential supplier to the global market, “B.C. is on the higher-cost side on LNG — just from the cost of extracting it, the cost of shipment to tidewater … it’s on the higher side compared to competitors,” Gunton said.
Woodfibre LNG “is pretty small, and may not be as economically viable as some,” he said.
Officials with Woodfibre LNG, owned by Asia-based Pacific Energy Corp., did not return phone messages left at the company’s Vancouver office seeking comment. On its website, however, the company says it submitted a project description to the Canadian and B.C. environmental assessment offices this month, initiating the assessment process.
The company has initiated baseline studies that will serve as part of that process. Proponents are committed to “supporting ongoing clean-up efforts in the Howe Sound area,” and “optimizing the existing infrastructure on the site to minimize environmental impacts,” the website states.
It’s not known whether the latter effort might include the use of electricity from the site’s two independent power projects to power all or part of the plant’s operation.
Written comments on the need for a federal environmental assessment and on the substitution request must be submitted by Jan. 6, 2014 to: Woodfibre LNG Project Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, 410-701 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, BC V7Y 1C6. Ph: 604-666-2431, Fax: 604-666-6990?Woodfibre@ceaa-acee.gc.ca.
To view a summary of the project description or for more information on the project, the substitution request and the environmental assessment process, see the Agency’s website at www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca (registry reference number 80060).