BC LNG: Why we call it ‘clean’

Some 78 countries burn coal to generate electricity, including Canada (which still produces 9% of its power from coal.)

But if you burn coal in a power plant, the atmosphere is hit with more than a few emissions:

  • Sulphur/sulfur dioxide (SO2), which contributes to acid rain and respiratory illnesses;
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx), which contribute to smog and respiratory illnesses;
  • Tiny particulates, which contribute to smog, haze, respiratory illnesses, and lung disease;
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the primary greenhouse gas produced from burning fossil fuels;
  • Mercury and other heavy metals, which have been linked to both nerve and developmental damage in humans and animals;
  • Fly ash and bottom ash, residues created when power plants burn coal, and, when stored on land, can leach pollution.

It’s a different, and much cleaner, story with natural gas, which is increasingly being used instead of coal to generate power. This graphic shows the result:

Which is why supporters of natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) often call the product “clean.”

Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, a colourless, odourless flammable gas. It’s not regarded as a health risk on its own.

But it is a “greenhouse gas” and governments and scientists tell us that’s not so clean. And if it is burned, it does produce some carbon dioxide, which is a more problematic greenhouse gas.

There is much heated argument and debate on whether the world’s continued use of fossil fuels is causing a greenhouse problem and over-heating the globe, and, if it is, what we can or should do about it.

What the natural-gas and LNG developers in BC are doing is tackling and reducing emissions wherever they can.

When we drill for natural gas, and produce and process and transport it, we may leak methane into the atmosphere through unwanted “fugitive emissions.”

The LNG and gas industries are working hard to reduce these, both for environmental reasons and for business reasons: Such fugitive emissions are losses of product that the developers would prefer to sell.

And then there are the emissions from LNG export plants themselves, carbon dioxide being one if a plant burns some of its incoming natural gas to drive turbines to produce electricity for the facility.

Two proposed BC plants, Kitimat LNG and Woodfibre LNG, have committed to using electricity from BC Hydro.  And more than 90% of BC Hydro’s power is produced by “renewable” hydroelectric generation.

LNG Canada has designed its export facility to have among the lowest carbon emissions of any LNG facility currently operating anywhere in the world – 50% lower than the average facility and 30% lower than the best performing facility.

LNG Canada will achieve these carbon reductions by using a combination of high-efficiency gas-turbine engines — and using hydro power from the BC grid — to power its operations.

And finally come emissions from the LNG carriers, the vessels that will deliver BC’s LNG to overseas markets. The International Maritime Organization has adopted mandatory measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping. And many LNG carriers use “boil-off” natural gas from their LNG cargoes as part of their fuel.

All in all, while the production of natural gas and LNG may add to BC’s greenhouse-gas emissions, the use of our LNG to replace coal-burning power plants in Asia will reduce over-all global emissions. The world benefits; and greenhouse gases do not recognize national boundaries.

Thus LNG Canada notes that if its LNG is used this way, global carbon emissions could be reduced by 60 to 90 million tonnes a year. That’s is equal to all of the carbon emissions produced in BC each year, and 10% of Canadian emissions.

And as BC environmental consultant Rob Seeley says: “This reduction is equivalent to taking 12 million to 18 million cars off the road.”

(Posted here 06 June 2019)