Common Sense Canadian

Christy Clark: BC LNG “The Cleanest Fossil Fuel on the Planet”…Really?

PostedMay 22, 2014 by in BC

In the keynote address kicking off her government’s second major conference on liquefied natural gas (LNG), BC Premier Christy Clark billed the resource as nothing short of “the cleanest fossil fuel on the planet.”

Clark touted LNG as a “generational opportunity” for the province’s economy, before a sold-out crowd at the Vancouver Convention Centre yesterday. Then the Liberal leader made the following extraordinary claim:

This is about our opportunity to make…the biggest contribution we ever have, as a province, to reducing greenhouse gas emissions around the globe – by powering up the economies of Asia and helping them move to the cleanest fossil fuel on the planet…move away from dirty fuels, cleaning up the air there, and cleaning up the air here.

But how does this claim stack up with the evidence on LNG – which in BC would depend almost entirely upon a massive ramp-up of controversial shale gas fracking, according to expert geoscientist David Hughes?

Cornell scientist: “Your premier has her facts wrong”

Based on similar “clean LNG” claims from the BC Liberal government in the past, earlier this month I put this question to arguably the world’s leading authority on the climate impacts of shale gas, Dr. Roberth Howarth. I spoke to him near his office at Cornell University  for the forthcoming documentary film I’m co-producing, Fractured Land. Howarth’s research on “fugitive methane emissions” – persistent escapes of gas throughout the fracking, processing and transmission stages – has revolutionized how we view the footprint of shale gas.

Dr. Howarth readily acknowledges that, when burned, natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal or oil. But when methane escapes into the atmosphere – as it regularly does, in much higher concentrations than we previously thought – it wreaks climate havoc.

“Methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas that when you look at the cumulative impact of these greenhouse gas emissions,” Howarth noted, “natural gas – and particularly shale gas – is the worst of the fossil fuels.”

The Cornell scientist  just released an update to his groundbreaking 2011 paper, which pegged these methane escapes at 3.6-7.9% . Anything above 2.8%, and gas is worse for the climate than coal, he explained. The BC government is still using figures like 0.3-3%, despite warnings from its own ministry officials on the climate consequences of LNG. Howarth put it bluntly:

Your premier has her facts wrong.

But he’s far from alone in recognizing these issues. A NOAA-led study of one Utah gas field last year estimated 6.2-11.7% fugitive methane emissions. The International Panel on Climate change agrees that methane is far greater heat trap than CO2. According to Howarth, over 20 year period, methane is 86 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. 

LNG adds insult to climate injury

So shale gas is already a very dirty fuel – but when you go the extra, energy-intensive step of converting it to LNG, the impact is even worse, because the industry intends to burn and bleed off gas to power the cooling and shipping processes. “…LNG is probably the worst way to use [shale gas],” Howarth noted, “because it takes an enormous amount of energy to liquefy the gas to LNG – so a lot further methane emissions associated with transporting and storing the fuel.”

On that note, the Pembina Institue estimates that BC’s LNG vision of 5 plants operating in Kitimat and Prince Rupert  within the next 5-10 years would more than double the entire province’s climate footprint. And that doesn’t count all these issues with fracking itself – so the full reality is much worse. Indeed, the premier’s claims ultimately come down to a disconnect with the source of the fuel – as if LNG simply materialized in Kitimat without any upstream impacts from fracking.

And those impacts are many – extending far beyond climate.

The elephant in the room: WATER

Water is the other elephant in the room. In 2012, BC used close to 11 Billion litres of water for fracking – most of that drawn from the rivers, lakes and streams of northeast BC, a region already hard-hit by drought in recent years.

Shale gas expert David Hughes has run the numbers on what it would take to supply those LNG plants, and it means as many as 50,000 new fracked wells – close to double all the gas wells drilled in the 60-year history of the province’s gas industry. In order to supply this LNG-driven ramp-up, he and  Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researcher Ben Parfitt figure “a very conservatively estimated 582 billion litres of water would then be polluted and removed from the hydrological cycle.”

On an annual basis, that’s equivalent to all the water used by the city of Calgary.

Pipelines, plants carry ecological impacts

Then there are the ecological impacts of myriad pipelines carrying the gas across northern BC – which recently drove highly controversial changes to BC’s Parks Act – among other issues.

And, of course, the gas plants themselves, which threaten vital wild salmon habitat in the Skeena Estuary and human respiratory health in Kitimat

Add up all the issues and evidence, and Premier Clark’s Orwellian claim of “the cleanest fossil fuel on the planet” starts to sound a lot more like hot air than natural gas.


About the Author

Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.


    Andrew Hall

    Christy Clarke and the Liberals are destroying this province in so many ways. Our public schools are underfunded, while private schools are gifted 55% of the general public’s taxes. Private schools only received 30% prior to Clarke’s rule. The obvious shift in education in B.C. is an attack on the middle and lower class. Politicians send
    their children to private schools so, selfishly, they adjust funding levels to benefit themselves.

    If that money was returned back to public education, the issue of class size and composition would be funded.

    How is it that a government can flout the law so arrogantly and not be held accountable?

    This Liberal government hired a mediator (Vince Ready) using approximately $500,000 taxpayer dollars during the last two week teacher’s strike.
    They didn’t like his findings so they ignored all but one of them.

    The courts tell them they’re operating illegally and they appeal to delay a decision for another year or two. This has been happening since 2002, and in that time schools have been steadily loaded with higher demands with less teachers, and educational assistants.

    Rick Papineau

    Just going to say that Battlestar Galactica had it right when that show taught us that “frack” is a dirty word…


    Sorry… what country is this?


    I am so disheartened by the butt-kissing politics in this province as well as in the federal. I see and hear people, everyday, fighting the tar sands, fighting the fracking, fighting the cheats and liars in these governments – Hell, I do too! I’ve protested, marched, organized and signed petitions, donated $ to fight the dishonesty of these governments in court, etc.

    All seems to be for nought! I wonder what it will really take for ‘us’, the informed and involved public, to get these govts out of power! We’ve had plebiscites, polls, etc. and – regardless the outcome – these cheating lying govts. totally ignore us! WE are the people that put them there – THEY (are supposed to) work for us. The question is, how do we make this happen? Is it going to take physical violence to take back our country? If not, then what?? Elections – sounds like a good democratic way to resolve this – but wait – the BCLibs somehow managed to get in again (?), as did the CPC (?) Doesn’t this seem a little suspicious?

      scotty on denman

      “All seems for nought!” —except your list, plebiscites, polls, etc., missed the most important way of changing governments: elections. As vile as it is, we did in fact elect Christy.

      I’ll give you this, though: if one of the most important branches of government, the judiciary, no longer checks the excesses of the executive, the sundry name for what we refer to as “government”, then, indeed, all is for nought.


      “Presidents come and presidents go..’, ‘Premiers come and premiers go..’ Prime Ministers come and prime ministers go…’

      It doesn’t matter who was elected, the forces beyond control the strings…. it’s called ‘big money’.

    Tom Pendergast

    According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, rice cultivation consumes 1/3 of the world’s fresh water. Next highest water consumer is probably coal-fired or nuclear-powered electricity generating plants and after that, probably irrigation of farmlands and golf courses.

    Water consumption for fracking operations is minor by comparison.

    Water consumption at natural gas power generating plants is far less than that of coal-fired plants. That means better efficiency and lower emissions of CO2 not to mention that of particulate matter, mercury and NOx/SOx. So I think Premier Christy Clarke is quite right in claiming that natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel.

    Natural gas requires far less processing for end-use applications than any other hydrocarbon, let alone uranium.

    Methane (CH4, the formal, chemical name for natural gas) emissions are far more common in century-old, cast iron pipeline distribution systems such as on the eastern seaboard than they are at modern wellheads where operators try to capture as much as possible of that income stream. Have you ever heard of “Green Completion” and understood what that implies?

    Dr. Howorths’ colleagues at Cornell (other than Dr. Anthony Ingraffea) do not agree with his assessments. His claims have been widely debunked elsewhere.

    As for helping China “clean up its act”, natural gas exports to them will be a boost. The agreement between China and Gazprom for a 30-year supply can’t begin until the Siberian pipeline is built, which hasn’t even started yet, let alone its financial arrangements. Meanwhile, there’s Kitimat and nine other Canadian LNG terminals abuilding as well as supplies coming from Indonesia and Australia.

    Then there’s the issue of China’s coal-fired plants; for the past two decades, America’s Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh and Wheeling as well as the University of West Virginia have been collaborating with Chinese engineers and scientists on developing “clean coal technologies” or more formally, Integrated Gassification Combined Cycle (IGCC) which emits almost no CO2, NOx/SOx and no mercury.

    The first such effort, in Beulah, ND, still operates and sends via pipeline 100% of its CO2 output to an old oilfield in Saskatchewan for enhanced oil recovery where the CO2 is permanently sequestured and the productive lifetime of the field has been extended by an estimated 20-25 years. Similar but much larger plants are operating now in Wabash and Edwardsport, Indiana and coming soon in Lima, Ohio and Odessa/Midland Texas.

    Quite frankly, I think that these two initiatives — IGCC and CO2 enhanced oil recovery and sequestration — contribute far more to mitigating CO2 emissions than you or I do driving around in our cars! Going out on a limb, I’d say that you and I outnumber hydrocarbon personnel by many orders of magnitude, wouldn’t you?

    When I look at the history of energy production in America (I’m from Ohio), I’ve seen photos of oil derricks chock-a-block next to each other, and I imagine they were emitting tons of methane. Did the world heat up because of that? Were there thousands, millions of deaths? I don’t think so. Nevertheless, our ‘best practices’ are vastly improved and we are all the better off for it.

      scotty on denman

      “Did the world heat up because of that?” —I’d say the answer would have to be, “partly, yes it did.” I wouldn’t hazard to guess a number, but if wellhead methane escapes happen (and they do), then they contribute to total GHG emissions.

      “Were there thousands, millions of deaths?” Again, I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to number of deaths, but inasmuch as climate warming contributed to recent strings of heat waves during which there were fatalities, methane leaks did their share.

      I think IGCC technology is very promising, if not for elimination of combustion-sourced GHGs, then for substantial reduction; the chemistry apparatus for this technique also has potential for turning waste CO2 into plastics and other hydrocarbon derivatives. I suspect enthusiasm for CO2 sequestration is directly proportional to the longevity of oil fields, the profitable lifetimes of which are extended by this method. It could be a good way to get more oil out of the ground if that oil didn’t subsequently contribute to GHG and if the CO2 used actually stays in the ground.

      Don F.

      I am concerned by your mindset and the examples you give to justify your misplaced argument.
      You say that 1/3 of the world;s fresh water is used in the production of rice, a staple food source for billions of people on this planet.
      You clump farmland irrigation in with golf course maintenance as if they should both be considered with the same disdain
      Then you tell us by comparison fracking usage is minor by comparison????
      What you fail to mention is that there are chemicals added to the water for fracking that are toxic in nature leaving any water used in the process toxic. We of course are not allowed to know what chemicals are used in this process because our governments grant these corporations the right to do it secretly, something should send shivers up any sane individual back!

      You have seen photos of oil derricks back to back but not millions of deaths???
      Oil derricks don’t frack! Has the world heated up? Yes!!


    Chrissy will say ANYTHING her handlers place in front of her.
    She’s a lapdog to the oil and gas industry.
    Nothing more.

    Mr Reality

    The campaigner, now Premier, needs to start governing. This stubborn focus on LNG is having a ripple effect on exacerbating the countless other issues impacting this province. Clark’s obsession with campaigning for LNG and not focusing on governing this province will impacts us for years to come. an economic platform can only be pushed forward with a focus on DIVERSIFYING the economy.

    She made a critical tactical error by focusing on LNG as the primary driver for economic expansion and if she does not back off, even a little, everyone will see the true reality of the Liberals under Clark. They are incapable of governing.

    When you put all your political capitol eggs in one basket (LNG) you run the serious risk of losing the faith of the voters. The Liberals are well on their way and only 1 year into their term.

    Mr. R

      scotty on denman

      There was and still is only one party big enough to replace the BC Liberals, or, more precisely, displace the BC Liberals. It’s fair to say that party had lost touch with voters. It’s academic to dwell on how much closer that party can skate to fatally thin ice—it has already fallen through by admitting its secondary rival to parliamentary seat and by blowing a twenty-point election campaign lead. And, without necessarily dwelling on the time wasted and the extra denigration of BC at the hands of the BC Liberals whilst the NDP dithered for two leaderships over the electorate’s disinterest in “positive politics” (which has been painfully obvious for years), we can at least look forward to the the guy stepping up to the plate: there are still only two outs. This is the only way out of our current mess, definitely not expecting Christy to govern more broadly and defocus from LNG—she can’t, even if she wanted to: there’s nothing in the kitty except the skeletons of BC Liberal malfeasance. Notice as she boosts LNG expectations to even higher flights of fantasy, she also pushes ETAs back, slowly but surely—and so we wait fro the NDP to get its shit together.


    What happened to the “moral training” we had as children, was it just a smoke screen created by the 1%; it seems many politicians and corporate leaders do not understand the concept of truth and ethical behaviour.

      scotty on denman

      If politicians and corporate leaders find out they can do just about anything with impunity, they’ll do just about anything to stay in power and profit by keeping it that way—many people would but it’s politicians and corporate leaders we especially have to watch out for.

      It used to be that ethical rectitude was prerequisite to political and corporate office, which the political right has come to regard as a quaint, old-fashion notion. They point to their successes: we elect governments that say they shall govern as if running a business, but which intentionally bankrupt public enterprises, that offer individual tax cuts by stealing from the public weal that we all contribute to, that tell us government doesn’t have money for—or is bound to not interfere with— things privateers can profit from, like ferries, schools, medical imagery, bridges, etc., but still collects fees through hollowed-out public monopolies, fronting clearing houses for partisan reward—all of it fairly blatantly, like a dare: the BC Liberals bend the rules and, if nothing happens, they break the rules, and, if still nothing happens, they dismiss the rules and dispense with democratic legislating altogether. Today’s right takes licence yet the electorate seems hardly concerned, not on ethical ground, that’s for sure—it knowingly elected one of the most unethical governments in BC history.

      The courts, of course, exist largely to check government and corporate excess, yet we didn’t see much balancing or checking in the BC Rail corruption trial (insult was added to public injury in that case). I think the teachers’ contract trial (about Christy tearing it up back when she was education minister, a dozen years ago) shows better what checking and balancing is supposed to mean, although that case being a painfully long process, exactly as intended by the defendant, the government, which racked up a huge, unnecessary public legal bill defending what it knew was an un-winnable case. At appeal, it continued to behave as if it had “social licence” to ignore the Constitutional law by which it lost at trial—but this time it got warned, verbally and by a $2 million fine, not only to let go of the ideological war it has continually provoked with teachers , but also to back up and make good some of the decade of damages it caused by ripping up the contract (the inferior education students got during this period can’t easily be assessed or compensated). The government has incredibly referred this second loss to the SCoC; it remains to be seen if the Court will follow through with some additional punishment should the government lose this final round—to see if the judicial check and balance wasn’t completely and permanently broken by the corruption of the BC Rail corruption trial—and if prosecuting breaches of trust is as encouraged, accessible and effective as it should be. Unfortunately popular politics doesn’t seem to know what ethics are, even if it hit them on the head; we have to depend on the courts when voters forget and the powerful ignore ethics.


    If methane is x80 then BC will be a worse ghg emitter than the tarsands wow


    I am going to be putting out this information as far and as wide as I can.

    Eoin F.

    Premier Clark has suggested we owe a moral duty to Asia to help get them off coal-burning power plants. I assume she knows of the 10 such power plants in Alberta and Saskatchewan


    …and Kitimat died under a cloud..Prince Rupert is still gasping


    C. Clarke is a shill.
    Gordo was a bumbler.
    Gordo’s “300lb gorilla” now morphed into the “minister of everything” has always been in control (See: give away of “private” forest to WFP…major holder of elected gov’t official’s
    pension fund).
    Russia/China gas deal puts BC in the position of supplier to a smaller mkt, ie;Indonesia
    which has also bought into LNG in Australia…that’s called leverage, which means a race to the bottom to Indonesia’s benefit.
    Next likely step: China sells out of BC & Alberta Gas/LNG/ “Oil” at a loss, as none want in.
    Fracking is dead.
    This plan is environmental (not to mention “financial”) suicide for BC.


    The cleanest fossil fuel is oxymoronic, and just plain moronic for that matter, because the cleanest fossil fuel is still incredibly dirty. Even if the statement were true it would still outline exactly what’s wrong here, that investment rather than divestment in fossil fuels is still being endorsed.
    If we put half as much money into clean energy, even just hydrogen fuel, that we put every year into fossil fuels we would have everything they’re trying to promise us with fossil fuels, and more. It would be ethical, we’d have independence, it would be clean, and it would never run out because it doesn’t have a finite source.

    Don F.

    So the only conclusion one can draw from this is that Christy Clarke is arguing her goal,as a world class citizen and one who cares, is to clean up the environment in Asia. The major downfall is of course in order to accomplish this is the need to destroy the environment of B.C. and double it’s emissions into our environment!
    I guess it comes down to where her priorities lay.
    For her it must be a troubling question.
    What to do???

      Damien Gillis

      …Except this isn’t really going to help Asia’s environment. Perhaps it would spell less coal particulate and local mining, but, as Dr. Howarth illustrates, it would carry serious climate impacts, which affect the whole world, including China.

      And for BC, as you say, it’s a pretty grim picture…

Leave a Response