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January 2012: Public interest betrayed by gas exports

January 1, 2012

On the same day opponents of the controversial Keystone pipeline were celebrating the Obama administration’s decision to put the project on hold, BC Premier Christy Clark was on CBC radio warbling about the bright future for Kitimat thanks to liquid natural gas (LNG) exports.  What the premier failed to include in her eulogizing was her definition of the word “future”.

According to research by David Hughes, one of Canada’s top energy experts, that rosy future will end in 2030. If a proposed Shell LNG export facility is also built, the future will end in 2023. In an article in the current edition of Watershed Sentinel, Hughes reveals that just 12 years from now, if Christy Clark’s ambitions play out, Canadian gas demand will exceed supply and Canada will become increasingly dependent on expensive imports.

Accept for a moment – and for argument’s sake – that natural gas is the “least worst” fossil fuel option during the transition to truly sustainable and renewable energy sources.

And then ask yourself: Why is Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) so keen to rid Canada of its finite supply of natural gas? According to its website, the purpose of NEB “is to regulate pipelines, energy development and trade in the Canadian public interest”.

By granting Kitimat LNG a 20-year export permit for a total of 9.3 trillion feet of natural gas, the NEB is threatening Canada’s own energy security.

As Hughes points out, “The NEB approval represents a bonanza for three energy companies [two US, one Canadian] who will be able to sell most of their reserves at up to triple the current North American price.” The accelerated shortfall between Canadian gas production and demand “will ultimately force Canadians to pay higher Asian prices for their own resources.” Public interest? Hardly.

And what of the potentially devastating environmental consequences of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) needed to extract gas from shale deposits? (As skepticism about this technology mounts, France has banned the practice outright.) Did this trouble the NEB in its Kitimat export decision? No.

Like the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal to export oil from Alberta’s tar sands on which it will soon rule, the NEB sees the source (and environmental consequences) of the gas to be exported from Kitimat as immaterial. (The Board’s view seems to be that once the oil or gas are in an approved pipeline, it doesn’t matter where they came from.) Public interest? Not so much.

Assessing the potential environmental and socio-economic effects of gas development was, the NEB said, the job of BC’s Oil and Gas Commission. Would this be the same Oil and Gas Commission which is entirely funded by oil and gas industry money? The same Oil and Gas Commission whose last director left to take a senior job with Apache, one of the US partners in the Kitimat LNG terminal? Why, yes, it would be.

Perhaps that’s why Premier Clark thinks the future is so rosy for Kitimat.

Perhaps she is unaware of the sustainable long term employment and economic benefits the government of BC could be reaping by investing in renewable energy technologies. (According to a recent analysis of Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan, the province’s commitment to increasing wind energy will directly and indirectly create 80,328 person years of employment and bring a total market value of $16.4 billion, more than half of which will remain in the province.)

Not only do we have wind in BC (as the recent power failures reminded us), but, as Premier Clark would notice if she looked west from Kitimat, we also have tides that come in and go out every single day of the year. Quite reliable really – as Nova Scotia and Maine have already noticed.

Or perhaps – given that she will be out of office before Kitimat runs out of LNG to export in 19 years (or 12 years or less), the premier simply doesn’t care that fixating on short term corporate profits and political gains, rather than longer term planning, is, as Hughes points out, a recipe for disaster.

His full critique of the NEB decision and its implications can be found at www.watershedsentinel.ca/content/canadian-gas-exports-threaten-energy-security.

Public interest betrayed by gas exports

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