About 50 area residents were on hand to voice their concerns and ask questions about the Woodfibre LNG project at a round table discussion on Gambier Island last Saturday, March 21.
Pending an assessment from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), the proposed Woodfibre LNG project, located seven kilometres southwest of Squamish, is set to begin construction this year with completion by 2017.
How it would work
Natural gas is piped in through an existing Fortis BC pipeline, which would need to be expanded for this project.
Once the natural gas is at the facility, impurities like carbon dioxide, water and sulphur are removed. What is left is mostly methane that gets cooled to -162 degrees Celsius, making the gas a liquid. If the impurities were left in, the liquefaction process would freeze the gas into a solid state.
The liquid natural gas (LNG) is then loaded into a floating storage and off-loading unit (FSO). Three to four times a month, these FSOs are loaded onto tankers the length of three football fields (a little over 300 metres) and with a maximum width of 50 metres.
The tankers then travel from the deep water port at the Woodfibre LNG facility, through Howe Sound, between the mainland and Anvil, Gambier and Bowen islands. Once clear of the coastal islands, the tankers make their way across the Pacific to Asian markets.
The biggest concern shared by residents at the meeting was the disruption tankers might cause to Howe Sound, what it would mean for ferries in the area, and for small crafts like kayaks and sailboats.
According to Woodfibre, the tankers would be using an existing shipping lane to get to the open ocean, one used by roughly 13,000 large vessels in 2013. At its narrowest point, between the mainland and Anvil Island, the channel is about 1,440 metres.
Lloyd Mendonsa, Woodfibre’s expert at the shipping and safety routes table, addressed some of these concerns.
“We are going to have two B.C. Coast pilots on board each of those tankers,” said Mendonsa. “The B.C. Coast pilots are in communication with the ferries. If there is a requirement, they will stop and let the ferry pass.”
The tankers will be travelling at eight to 10 knots through Howe Sound, and according to Mendonsa, will require only about the length of the tanker itself to stop.
Seasonal resident of Howe Sound and vocal critic Eoin Finn disagrees with the stopping distance Woodfibre has estimated.
“If you have to stop an LNG tanker in its own distance, you would break the tanker,” Finn said.
A retired partner of accounting firm KPMG, Finn has a PhD in physical chemistry and an MBA in international business.
According to Finn, it would take a mile to stop a tanker that size, travelling at that speed.
On a clear day, visibility is also about a mile, even with assistance from tug boats (one tethered, two escorting) that would help the tanker through Howe Sound. Many expressed concerns about being able to go out in their boats if an LNG tanker was passing.
“The whole purpose of having the tug boats right near the ship, and escorting them … is that in a fog or in any circumstance, there is some visibility,” said Mendonsa. “It may not be as much as you’d like, but there is a small range of visibility even in fog.”
Residents at the table were also quick to point out that you often can’t see five metres in a fog. Without radio communication, a kayaker might just look like a log until it’s too late, one resident pointed out.
Mendonsa’s answer was that in such cases, the LNG tanker would likely slow down from its manoeuvring speed of eight to 10 knots or even wait for the fog to pass.
Concerns about environmental issues focused around the seawater cooling system that Woodfibre has proposed for this facility.
Woodfibre said 17,000 cubic metres of seawater is taken in through a screen that theoretically will keep most marine life out of the system. What does get sucked in, like microbial life, phytoplankton and anything else smaller than half a centimetre, is treated with chlorine.
The EAO is looking into the effects of chlorination on the sea life. Definitely the chlorine will stop anything from growing inside the cooling system. It’s possible, the EAO representatives said, that the sea life itself could go through unharmed.
The water coming out of the diffuser at the other end is about 10 degrees warmer than the ambient water and creates a bubble of diffusing heat for about 125 cubic metres at a depth of about 25 metres.
The EAO reps said that fish would likely avoid this area. They estimated the chlorine concentration in this area would be about 0.02 mg per litre, less than tap water, which has a maximum concentration of about 0.2 mg per litre.
“According to the marine biologists I’ve talked to,” Finn said, “any amount of chlorine is extremely nasty towards the base of the food chain, particularly the brown algae and seaweed. It will kill it.”
According to Finn, cameras dropped into the water around the Woodfibre site have shown a good deal of brown algae.
“Seventeen thousand tonnes of water an hour, every hour, for 25 years is going to change the entire biosphere of Northern Howe Sound,” Finn said. “It’s where the salmon rest up when they come out of the Squamish River and adjust to life in the seawater environment.
“Then you have the chlorine attacking the base of the food chain, which, ultimately, everything has to live on.”
Byng Giraud, media spokesperson for Woodfibre, disagreed.
“The significant impact is that the water will be slightly warmer than when it came in,” Giraud said. “The chlorination is well below standards and is dechlorinated. We think that is a modest impact.”
The period for public feedback ended March 23, but a form is still available for feedback on the EAO website: eao.gov.bc.ca.
And on Tuesday, Woodfibre LNG Limited launched askwoodfibrelng.ca, an interactive website allowing people in the community to get answers to questions.