Good News on Gas Emissions Eclipsed by LNG Plans

resources | BCBusiness
Gasoline in B.C. contains ethanol, typically derived from wheat

Biofuels reduced greenhouse gas emissions in B.C. by almost a million tonnes in 2012. That’s good news—until you factor in the 73 million tonnes expected to be produced by LNG by 2020

Doing nothing, British Columbians prevented 909,391 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere in 2012, according to statistics released by the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines this week. That’s the equivalent to taking 191,000 cars off the road.

The reduction came through the province’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, which mandates that all gasoline, except premium blends must contain 10 per cent ethanol, typically made from off-grade wheat in Canada, and diesel must contain five per cent biodiesel, usually from canola or feed stock. Just by fuelling up, British Columbians reduced their carbon footprint.

“It’s a good news story that is largely flying under the radar,” says Doug Hooper, a partner at Waterfall Group, consultants involved with the biodiesel industry in Vancouver. “Not many people even realize the mandate exists.”

Part of the reason the good news garnered little attention may be that carbon-reduction proponents aren’t that excited about it. “The renewable fuels initiative is important, but it needs to be part of a larger strategy,” says Josha MacNab, the B.C. director for the Pembina Institute, a think tank. “If it takes a commuter two hours to drive to work every day, then a cleaner fuel isn’t having that much of an impact.”

Cleaner fuels, she says, are only a small step toward meeting the province’s legislated goal of reducing its carbon emissions from 59 million tonnes in 2011 to 43 million tonnes by 2020. She says the province needs to work on developing more compact communities and better transportation infrastructure. Much more important, MacNab says, any reductions in transportation are inconsequential if B.C. develops its natural gas industry to the extent the Premier has suggested. 
“We don’t know how [the LNG industry] is going to play out and how much will be developed,” she says. “We do know that more than a modest development will have significant repercussions for greenhouse gas emissions.” 
Developing the gas wells, burning off impurities and condensing the gas to load onto special liquefied-natural-gas tankers: every step in the LNG industry injects greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. And that’s before the gas is burned to create electricity. To meet the government’s annual natural gas revenue hopes of $4 billion, the Pembina Institute estimates, the province will need between five and seven LNG facilities and more than 10,000 wells. If that happens LNG alone will inject an estimated 73 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere annually by 2020, according to Pembina. 
“If we develop the LNG industry to that extent it will be impossible to meet our greenhouse gas targets,” says MacNab. 
The worst-case scenario can be avoided with a more modest LNG industry and by choosing the infrastructure wisely. “The emissions of the LNG industry are not fixed,” she says. “The technology they choose for the plants and how to power them will have a big impact on emissions.” 
Any development of LNG will have some benefits to the “green economy,”  spurring the development of technologies and creative solutions to reduce carbon emissions elsewhere in the province. For instance, several companies are involved in the production and distribution of ethanol and biodiesel in B.C., industries that didn’t exist 10 years ago, says Hooper. The carbon offset business is also busy in in the province. 
“Strategies like the renewable fuels mandates and the carbon tax are helping to reduce our carbon emissions and shifting investment to a green economy,” MacNab says. “They are helping, but for them to have a lasting impact we have to make careful decisions moving forward.”