Canadian doctors call for moratorium on fracking for gas

On January 29, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) released a report which documents the serious health and environmental dangers associated with fracked natural gas, calling for the phase-out of existing fracking operations and a moratorium on any new fracking projects. CAPE also calls for Just Transition plans to help workers and the communities which would be affected.  Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of natural gas, and in 2018, 71% of that was “fracked gas”, mostly produced in northeastern British Columbia.  The Narwhal offers a good  (though now dated) explainer about fracking in Canada, and offers several in-depth articles, including “Potential health impacts of fracking in B.C. worry Dawson Creek physicians” (April 2019). The Narwhal has also published recent articles by Ben Parfitt of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C., who has also written extensively about fracking and LNG in B.C. Most recently, Peace River Frack-up  was released by CCPA-BC in January,  calling for an immediate ban on fracking activity for operations  close to BC Hydro’s two existing Peace River dams and the Site C dam, because of the risk of dam failure from fracking-caused earthquakes.

The CAPE report, Fractures in the Bridge: Unconventional (Fracked) Natural Gas, Climate Change and Human Health  documents the environmental and climate change impacts of fracking, with an over-riding concern about the significant health dangers, especially for communities and workers. The report notes: “Data from the US show that the risk of death among workers in this sector is two-and-a half-times higher than the risk for workers in construction and seven times higher than the risk for industrial workers as a whole.”  “America’s Radioactive Secret” is a troubling article which appeared in Rolling Stone on January 21, summarizing a journalistic investigation of the  unregulated trucking of fracking waste: “Oil-and-gas wells produce nearly a trillion gallons of toxic waste a year. An investigation shows how it could be making workers sick and contaminating communities across America.”

Fractures in the Bridge provides a Canadian perspective on the overwhelming evidence from established studies which have reported “negative health outcomes including adverse birth outcomes, birth defects including congenital heart defects and neural tube defects, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, dermal effects, gastrointestinal symptoms, neurological effects, psychological impacts and respiratory illnesses.” Fractures in the Bridge  also provides a very complete bibliography as well as an appendix showing how fracking is regulated in each province in Canada.

An important related source of information, updated in 2019, is the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction) , published by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

B.C. Budget delivers $902 million to fund Clean B.C. initiatives

BC government news open micThe government of British Columbia tabled its Budget on February 19- officially detailed in  Making Life Better- A Plan for B.C. 2019/20 — 2021/22 .  As summarized by the National Observer article, “B.C. provincial budget funds nearly $1 billion for climate action” , it included $902 million  over the next three years to support the 2018 Clean B.C. Plan . Here are some of the big-ticket items:  $107 million for transportation initiatives – mostly providing incentives for zero-emission vehicle purchases (up to $6000 per vehicle) and funding for new charging stations;  $58 million for making homes and commercial buildings more energy efficient – as a result, homeowners can get up to $14,000 for energy efficiency improvements such as  switching to high-efficiency heating systems or upgrading their doors or  windows. $168 million is dedicated to funding  an incentive program to encourage large industrial polluters to reduce their emissions; $15 million is dedicated to help remote communities transition to clean energy solutions, and  $299 million is unallocated as yet. In addition to the Clean B.C. funds, the budget includes $111 million over three years to fight and prevent wildfires, another $13 million for forest restoration, and $3 million for the BC Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative, to help First Nations communities build clean energy projects.

Reaction has generally been positive – for example, from Clean Energy Canada . The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. Office, in “Nine things to know about the B.C. Budget” commends the  $223 million which is  budgeted to increase the climate action tax credit for low- and middle-income earners, but says, “action needs to be ramped up further—and fast”.  CCPA’s  Special  Pre-budget Feature  included an essay by Marc Lee “Expand climate initiatives to reflect the urgency of the crisis”  (Feb. 1). Lee had called for the  reinstatement of  annual increases to the carbon tax, beginning in 2019 with an increase of $10 per tonne – but no such policy was announced. (Lee had also called for more realistic budget allocations for wildfire response, which was addressed).

Finally, the Pembina Institute response is generally positive, though it calls for an independent panel to publicly monitor accountability and report on progress annually, echoing the Op-Ed “wish list” it had released before the budget was handed down.  . That had  stated: “B.C.’s Climate Change Accountability Act needs more teeth. What’s required is a transparent process whereby the government forecasts carbon pollution (including reduction goals for each sector), tracks and publicly reports on our progress, submits this data for independent verification, and adjusts policies as necessary.”   Other key items which Pembina had called for include  stronger regulations than those announced in January to limit methane pollution, and a strategy to use clean electricity to power the controversial LNG production which threatens to make the province’s GHG emissions targets unreachable.

NDP-Green alliance promises a new chapter for B.C. government and climate change policies

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B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver and B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan  (photo by The Canadian Press/Chad Hipolito)

According to a June 12 press release, the Legislature of British Columbia will be recalled on June 22, when a confidence motion will determine who will lead the government  after the cliff-hanger election of May 9.  Read “Greens to prop up NDP’s Horgan in minority BC government” in the National Observer (May 29) for an overview of the alliance reached between the Green Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP) as they prepare to form the new provincial  government.  What have they agreed on?  The text of the “Supply and Confidence” agreement, “founded on the principles of good faith and no surprises”,  is available at the B.C. NDP website . Major points of agreement on climate change issues are:  implacable opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline;  an increase in the province’s carbon tax by $5 a tonne each year from April 2018, rising to the nationally required $50 a tonne by 2021;  a six-month, independent review of the unpopular  Site C hydroelectric project (a concession by the Greens, who had wanted to axe it outright); revival of  the province’s Climate Leadership Team; and  an investigation into  the safety of fracking. Read also “What does a NDP- Green Alliance mean for Climate Change?” in the Climate Examiner (June 8), and for the larger picture beyond climate change-related issues, see “ BC NDP-Green agreement offers historic opportunity for game-changing new policies” by Seth Klein and Shannon Daub of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives B.C. , or  “NDP and Greens Promise Electoral Reform Referendum, Big Money Ban and Higher Carbon Tax”  in The Tyee (May 30).

The national implications of the coming changes to B.C. energy policy are raised by Kathryn Harris  in “A Historic moment for B.C. Politics and our Environment”  in the Globe and Mail (updated June 1), who states: “At the heart of the Trudeau government’s 2016 climate plan lies a political compromise: a commitment to pursue reductions in Canada’s own greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for expansion of fossil-fuel exports to other countries via new pipelines. The looming NDP-Green partnership in British Columbia reveals both the political fragility of that compromise and the contradiction of climate leadership funded by fossil-fuel development.”

In that controversial pipeline debate: new, required reading from the Parkland Institute: Will the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tidewater Access Boost Prices and Save Canada’s Oil Industry?.  Author David Hughes  challenges the contention by pipeline proponents (for example, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley)  that Alberta would benefit from a “tidewater premium” by reaching global markets, and concludes that “The new BC government would be wise to withdraw the Province’s approval for this project.”  And “Showdown looms for LNG project”,  an overview article  in The Globe and Mail indicates the changes likely to come on that file, although the NDP-Green agreement doesn’t explicitly address the LNG issue.

The Pembina Institute offers an alternative to the Clark fossil fuel economy,  in their Vision for Clean Growth Economy  for B.C., released in May.  It outlines  five key priorities and makes specific recommendations for their achievement: 1. Build a strong clean tech sector 2. Position B.C. to be competitive in the changing global economy 3. Make clean choices more affordable 4. Stand up for healthy and safe communities, and 5. Grow sustainable resource jobs.

B.C. Election 2017: focusing on energy and the environment amid all those scandals

Flag_of_British_Columbia.svgThe sitting Liberal government of British Columbia, led by Premier Christy Clark, is facing an election on May 9, amid allegations of corruption  – most recently, in  “How Teck Resources benefits from being the largest BC Liberal donor”  from West Coast Environmental Law (April 6).  The Energy Mix reports  that  the Supreme Court of B.C. will begin a review of the government’s ties to Kinder Morgan,  the company behind the Trans Mountain pipeline, on May 3rd .  There are also wider, older  allegations of “cash for access” and donation scandals – for examples, see  the Dogwood Institute reports .

The election is full of contentious issues –  follow “ B.C. in the Balance”, a special series of election reports by The Tyee , or  DeSmog Canada ,  or the CBC Vancouver website for ongoing coverage.  Context is provided by a  CCPA-BC Policy Note (April 4), which summarizes the results of a recent survey of B.C. residents’ concerns: affordable housing and the cost of living (26%), the environment (24%), and  jobs and the economy (15%).

For a climate change-related viewpoint, West Coast Environmental Law has published a comparison of the climate change-related elements of the platforms of the three parties, and a scorecard .

The Liberal party platform, released on April 10, states: “ To keep B.C.’s economy strong and growing, today’s BC Liberals will get Site C built – employing thousands, and guaranteeing a 100-year supply of clean, affordable, reliable power. And the platform outlines key actions to strengthen forestry, secure new mining investments, and grow B.C.’s energy sector, including LNG.”    The Pembina Institute reaction speaks for most environmentalists in opposing the government’s continuing focus on LNG development:  “The platform released today continues … doubling down on an LNG industry that would be responsible for 20 million tonnes of B.C.’s carbon pollution in 2050. B.C.’s legislated 2050 target for carbon pollution is 13 million tonnes. Clearly, LNG is not a climate solution.”

Irene Lanzinger, President of the B.C. Federation of Labour  and member of Green Jobs BC  is critical of the Liberal record on green jobs, in  an April 13 article in The Tyee  , and points to the Green Jobs BC priorities for green job growth: clean energy, transit, building retrofits and forestry.

The Green Party platform   includes a statement on Building the New Economy,  and the platform on climate leadership . The Green Platform is most notable for its pledge to increase B.C.’s carbon tax by $10 per tonne per year, reaching $50 per tonne by 2021. (as recommended by the shelved 2016 Climate Leadership Plan ).  David Suzuki praises the Green platform but states:  “Missing from this announcement are details of a funding framework for public transit infrastructure investment and a firm commitment to expand the use of low-impact renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and tidal power to achieve the province’s energy needs.”  According to West Coast Environmental Law, neither the Green nor NDP platform makes any statement about fossil fuel subsidies.

The NDP platform is here , and was welcomed by the Pembina Institute on its release:      “We are pleased to see the commitment to implementing the recommendations of the premier’s Climate Leadership Team, which plot a course to significantly reduce B.C.’s carbon pollution — in particular, the pledge to adopt the proposed 2030 target and sector-by-sector targets for emissions.”

Federal Government approves Pacific NorthWest LNG project in B.C.

Is there a pattern  emerging in the federal government’s leanings regarding controversial energy projects?  After its approval of the Site C dam in B.C. in August 2016,  the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced, late on the evening of September 27, approval with 190 conditions  for the Pacific North West LNG project, to be built near Lelu Island, north of Prince Rupert, B.C. . See the Government of Canada press release and the full text of the Decision Statement, including conditions, released by Canada Environment Assessment Agency.  For summaries, read the the Globe and Mail (Sept. 28)  or  the Vancouver Province (Sept. 28) or the National Observer   .  CBC offers a brief analysis at “Trudeau government at pains to explain Pacific West LNG” at the CBC.

More reaction is sure to pour in as environmentalists analyse the Decision and conditions, but an article in The Tyee (Sept. 28) summarizes initial reactions by major environmental groups.  The Pembina Institute’s Matt Horne been writing about the climate change implications for a long time, as recently September 27  in IRPP’s Policy Options,  “Cabinet should not allow BC’s and Petronas’ mistakes in Pacific NorthWest to be locked in for the next 30-plus years”. For Pembina’s initial reaction, plus links to many earlier critiques, see “Pacific NorthWest LNG approval is step backward for climate action in Canada” .

B.C. also awaits a federal decision about the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C., due in mid-December.

Updates: British Columbia’s New Climate Bureaucrat and LNG

Activists in B.C. are dismayed by the March 22 appointment of the person who will lead B.C.’s upcoming Climate Leadership Plan: see  “Fazil Mihlar, former Fraser Institute director, tapped as B.C.’s Deputy Climate Minister”  in the National Observer. Despite widespread public opposition – especially from the local group My Sea to Sky –  the Woodfibre LNG project was awarded federal approval, with conditions, on March 18 .  And in what is seen as a serious test of Canada’s climate commitment ,  Federal Minister McKenna has delayed the decision on the Pacific Northwest LNG project ; see “ Tensions tighten as Ottawa Prepares Decision on Pacific Northwest LNG”   in the Globe and Mail  or “Decision time for Trudeau: Climate Commitments or LNG legacy” in the  National Observer.  See also the Policy Note from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “B.C. government spin cycle on LNG”  (March 15),   summarizing the results of freedom of information requests regarding natural gas supplies, environmental impacts, and economic benefits of developing LNG.     On a more positive note, Premier Clark announced funding of $11.9 million from the Province’s Innovative Clean Energy (ICE) Fund for three programs aimed at promoting clean-energy vehicles, clean air and clean water.   Details of the Clean Energy Vehicle Program are here  .

ECONOMIC IMPACTS OF B.C. LNG DEVELOPMENT

A May 2015 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives considers six possible scenarios for liquefied natural gas export development in B.C., ranging in the number of export terminals from zero to five (the current government estimate). A Clear Look at BC LNG: Energy Security, Environmental Implications and Economic Potential  states that government claims of available gas supplies for export are greatly exaggerated, and that production would involved massive disruption, given that most wells would be fracked wells. Further, author David Hughes argues that is unlikely that anything close to the revenue projected by the BC government will ever be realized. And beyond the environmental dangers to the citizens of B.C., LNG will not reduce global GHG emissions: “From wellhead to final combustion, there are substantial leakages of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Given this, liquefied fracked gas from BC actually has GHG emission rates similar to coal.”   Researchers who wish to pursue these concerns will welcome a new interactive planning tool, called the B.C. Shale Scenario Tool , available online at the Pembina Institute website. It allows users “ to quantify the potential impacts of shale gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) development in northeast B.C. in terms of carbon pollution, land disturbance, water use and wastewater.”

Blue and Green Authors Promote Sustainable Forestry over LNG Development in B.C.

An article written jointly by Arnold Bercov, President of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada (PPWC), and two campaigners with the Wilderness Committee environmental group states: “We believe the B.C. government has gradually abandoned the province’s forestry heritage in pursuit of an unsustainable pipe dream: liquefied natural gas exports to Asia. The better option – for a resilient economy and for our climate – is to rebuild an innovative, sustainable forestry sector…What B.C. needs is legislation that supports an innovative and adaptable forest industry that creates local jobs and moves products up the value chain. Raw-log exports must be banned. Strong laws should also be enacted to protect the ecological values of our working forests for future generations”. See “Trees are the Solution that LNG will never be” in the Times Colonist (Dec. 21). The same article appeared in The Tyee (January 5, 2015) under the title “Prosperity? Forestry not Fracking”. The PPWC has also been critical of the unequal distribution of funds in B.C.’s 2014 policy document, Skills for Jobs Blueprint, whereby training support for LNG jobs appears to come at the expense of funding for other sectors, such as forestry. See Local Knowledge and Government Funding Vital to Training the Next Generation of Foresters.

B.C. LNG Setor: New Legislation and a New Report

In the week of October 20, British Columbia introduced the Greenhouse Gas Industrial Reporting and Control Act and the Liquefied Natural Gas Income Tax Act. The former requires liquefied natural gas plants to purchase carbon offsets and punishes those who fail to limit their carbon emissions to 0.16 tonnes per tonne of LNG – the strictest standards in the world, according to B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak.

However, Merran Smith of Clean Energy Canada criticized the Act for focussing exclusively on port facilities, at the end of the supply chain. Matt Horne of the Pembina Institute asserted that 70% of the industry’s emissions would be released before reaching the ports. See “B.C.’s New LNG Emissions Regulations A Good Start, But Not Enough” from Desmog Canada at: http://www.desmog.ca/2014/10/22/bc-new-lng-emissions-regulations-good-start-but-not-enough, and Pembina’s comments at: http://www.pembina.org/media-release/pembina-reacts-to-tabling-of-bc-lng-carbon-pollution-legislation.

The new tax legislation imposes a 3.5% rate on operating income, half the amount B.C. had initially planned. Read the government press release at: http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2014/10/bc-to-have-worlds-cleanest-lng-facilities.html, and for details on the Act, see the government’s website at: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/topic.page?id=75BD4BF2B6B5493FB8A36DB05EBA764D. Jack Mintz, from the University of Calgary, states: “the B.C. shale gas royalty is one of the most distortionary systems developed in industrialized countries”.

For his financial and policy critique, see “Jack M. Mintz: Why B.C.’s LNG tax policy sets a bad precedent” in the Financial Post at: http://business.financialpost.com/2014/10/22/jack-m-mintz-why-b-c-s-lng-tax-policy-helps-neither-the-province-nor-the-industry/. For a broader view, see Marc Lee’s reaction in “A B.C. Framework for LNG, part 2: The LNG income tax” at Rabble.ca at: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/policynote/2014/10/bc-framework-lng-part-2-lng-income-tax.

And the last word: Pembina will release a new report on October 27th, LNG and Climate Change: The Global Context.

British Columbia Tripartite Working Group Makes Workforce Recommendations for LNG Development in the Face of Environmental Controversy and Public Opinion

Since September 2013, the Premier’s Liquefied Natural Gas Working Group has met to discuss workforce planning, skills training, and the use of temporary workers in LNG projects. Described by the government as “unprecedented”, the working group included representatives from government, industry, the Haisla Nation, and organized labour, specifically: United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 170; B.C. Federation of Labour; B.C. and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council; B.C. Government and Service Employees Union; Construction and Specialized Workers Union Local 1611; and Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 280. The Working Group released their final report on March 31st and all fifteen recommendations were accepted by the Premier on April 3rd. Next step: a 10-year skills-training plan. The Terms of Reference did not include the environmental impact of the proposed LNG development and the contention that the LNG production will make it impossible for B.C. to meet its legislated carbon emissions targets.

The Final Report provides an inventory of existing and proposed LNG development in B.C. as of March 2014, as well as analysis of the workforce data and issues as identified by the B.C. Natural Gas Workforce Strategy and Action Plan, released in July 2013 and since updated by the government. Fifteen recommendations include the use of best practices relating to apprenticeship, mobility of labour within B.C. and Canada, and most contentiously, the use of temporary foreign workers. The report calls for the formation no later than July 2014, of an ongoing body which would include government, labour unions, industry and contractors, and First Nations, to participate in workforce planning, skills training, and to develop a protocol for the use of temporary foreign workers, “to limit their use, but also to plan accordingly for their use if and when needed”.

Many First Nations groups oppose LNG development, and a new public opinion survey released on April 24 shows that 78% of British Columbians agree that “B.C. should transition away from using fossil fuels to cleaner sources of energy to prevent climate change from getting worse. More than two thirds (67%) agree the province should decrease its reliance on fossil fuel exports to avoid future boom and bust economic cycles”. The survey was commissioned by the Pembina Institute, Clean Energy Canada and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, and conducted by Strategic Communications Inc. in April of 2014.

LINKS

Premier’s Liquefied Natural Gas Working Group: Final Report is available at: http://www.labour.gov.bc.ca/pubs/pdf/lng_final_report.pdf, with a press release and backgrounder from B.C. Premier’s Office at: http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2014/04/premiers-lng-working-group-recommendation-road-map.html

“Key Native Group in Northern B.C. threatens to Stop Talks on Pipelines” in the Globe and Mail (April 21) at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/native-group-threatens-to-stop-talks-on-pipelines/article18088799/, but also see “B.C. and First Nations sign first LNG revenue-sharing Agreement, and Backgrounder” at: https://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2014/04/bc-and-first-nations-sign-first-lng-revenue-sharing-agreements.html

Public Opinion Survey is available from the Pembina Institute website at: http://www.pembina.org/pub/2539

See also the BC LNG Info website, maintained by the Northwest Institute, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, and Headwaters Initiative, with the stated goal of providing impartial, up to date information about the LNG industry in B.C. for the benefit of the community. See http://bclnginfo.com/newsroom for news and updates.

BC Budget Announces Tax on LNG, Silent on Carbon Price

On February 18th, British Columbia tabled a provincial budget that touts its Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) development plans and offers some highly anticipated clarification on the sector’s tax structure.

Proposed taxation will include a 7% levy on the liquefaction process (the most emissions-intensive part of the process), which will take effect after capital costs are recovered. Until then, companies will pay only 1.5%. While companies argue the tax may render B.C. LNG uncompetitive, Sustainable Prosperity argues that the rate will likely be lower in practice. Adding to the confusion over just how much revenue will accrue to the province is uncertainty about future LNG prices, and whether the existing carbon tax will apply.

The budget did not address the expected impacts on B.C.’s emissions reductions wellhead-to-waterline-022014targets. According to Sustainable Prosperity, five proposed LNG plants will emit 73 megatons of carbon alone, along with emissions from fracking, transportation, combustion, and any additional plants. In a new report, the Pembina Institute argues that the jobs and revenue figures published by the government would require five to seven LNG terminals, which it claims could put B.C. LNG emissions on par with oil sands emissions by 2020.

While the budget rolls back public spending overall, it also includes an expansion of the provincial Carbon Neutral Capital Program (CNCP) which will draw the health and post-secondary education sectors into an existing scheme to establish a carbon-neutral school system. CNCP collects $25 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions from participating sectors, which is then invested in low-carbon capital upgrades.

See the B.C. Budget and Fiscal Plan, along with highlights and backgrounders, at: http://bcbudget.gov.bc.ca/2014/default.htm. For reaction, see “Carbon regime missing in action in BC’s new LNG tax regime” from Sustainable Prosperity at: http://www.sustainableprosperity.ca/blogpost87; “B.C. Budget 2014: About that LNG Prosperity Fund” Blog from Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives at: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/policynote/2014/02/bc-budget-2014-about-lng-prosperity-fund. Also see Wellhead to Waterline: Opportunities to Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions from B.C.’s Proposed LNG Industry from the Pembina Institute at: http://www.pembina.org/pub/2524.