The Root Word: ForestEthics Blog

BC's 2013 Budget: What are the True Costs of Natural Gas?

Feb 20, 2013

Natural gas flare. Photo © Flickr/wcn247

In last week’s Throne Speech, the BC government proposed to create a Prosperity Fund, to help pay down the provincial debt, eliminate the provincial sales tax, and pay for services such as health care and schools. The riches from at least five liquefied natural gas plants (LNG), a multi-billion dollar industry, would fund the Prosperity Fund, and played a prominent role in yesterday’s budget.

While the revenue from natural gas sounds incredibly promising – we need to look deeper and consider the full costs of developing it. There are hefty environmental costs that the government doesn’t seem to be adding up.

Where will the energy come from to power three LNG plants – whose energy requirement is larger than the output of a proposed mega dam in the northeast (known as Site C)? What is the impact to the air quality in Kitimat and Prince Rupert, should these plants go ahead? Why is the government bothering to mandate British Columbians to swap out incandescent light bulbs in our houses for compact fluorescent bulbs, when the proposed LNG plants will eat up nearly three-quarters of the province’s own allotted carbon budget?

ForestEthics Advocacy released a report last fall that showed one proposed LNG plant would produce one-tenth the jobs of the current Skeena salmon economy, and yet produce over 200 times more carbon.

There is a lot of attention focused on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, but did you know that four pipelines, connecting the gas fields in the northeast to the ports in Kitimat and Prince Rupert, are being proposed for construction? What impacts will these pipelines, crisscrossing hundreds of salon-bearing streams, have on salmon habitat? Many of the communities who live along the proposed pipeline routes depend on salmon for their livelihood, cultures and traditions. The Skeena salmon alone is valued at $110 million annually, and supports more than 500 local jobs.

Fracking is the latest and greatest technology being used to free natural gas trapped in underground rock formations, but there are drawbacks: massive amounts of water use, fragmenting sensitive caribou habitat, mini earthquakes, and toxic chemicals being injected underground to name a few.

Communities who live near the gas fields are feeling the brunt of development. First Nations are finding it harder to practice traditions such as hunting, and medicinal plant collecting within the highly fragmented landscapes. Elders don’t trust drinking from the water, because of concerns of contamination. When the dust has settled from high volume of industrial traffic, farmers see wells flaring in their backyards.

The government needs to engage its citizens before going forward with such a bold plan that gives carte blanche to developing natural gas. We need a view of the big picture the government has planned for developing our natural gas resources, and how this fits into transitioning to low-carbon and lesser dependence on fossil fuels.

Last December, the BC government made a bold step towards responsible development. After eight years of broad opposition from local communities to Shell’s plans to frack for gas in the Sacred Headwaters – the birthplace of the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine Rivers, the government announced Shell was withdrawing its plans, and that the Sacred Headwaters would never be subject to natural gas development in the future. This is the type of leadership we need to be seeing more of from our government.

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