LETTERS: Greenhouse gas reduction not the whole story

Elizabeth May responds to concerns over her position on Alberta-B.C. pipleine project.

I am writing in reply to a letter from Sidney Van den Bergh (PNR, Dec. 9). He is someone whose advice I value.  I appreciate the opportunity to explain my position to him and all of you through Peninsula News Review.

Although his letter was brief, there are a number of points to cover in response. The LNG industry and Premier Clark’s claims that B.C. LNG delivered to China will reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHG), the impact of Kinder Morgan on Canada’s economy and the legitimacy of non-violent civil disobedience.

The claim that exporting LNG from B.C. to China will reduce GHG is based on using the emissions of conventional natural gas as though the same applies to the new industry based on exploitation of sale gas. Unlike conventional natural gas, gas produced by fracking shale has a much higher carbon footprint. There is no question that just looking at the emissions when gas is burned, natural gas will produce far fewer GHG emissions than coal.

But that is not the whole story. When looking at natural gas versus coal, it matters if the natural gas is fracked or conventional. The GHG emissions must be considered from the whole production process. This is called “life-cycle analysis” or looking at “upstream emissions.” Although conventional gas also has some upstream emissions, the fracking process allows a lot more methane gas to escape.

We focus on carbon dioxide when looking at GHG because there is so much more of it emitted and because carbon dioxide has a much longer lifespan in the atmosphere. Studies have shown that if one makes a reasonable assumption of the amount of methane leakage from B.C. fracking and one assumes best-available technology in current coal burning in China, burning B.C. LNG in China could be much worse than burning coal.  (David Hughes, CCPA report, A Clear Look at BC LNG)

The Kinder Morgan issue is different in that the product proposed for export is non-refined, solid bitumen.   While the Prime Minister has claimed that approving Kinder Morgan will help Canada’s economy there is no objective evidence to substantiate this claim.

The largest union representing oil sands workers, UNIFOR, intervened in the National Energy Boad (NEB) hearings on Kinder Morgan (KM) to argue against its approval. UNIFOR made the case that expansion of the existing KM pipeline to increase export of raw bitumen would cost Canadian jobs.  That is because the last remaining refinery in the lower mainland, the Chevron refinery in Burnaby, cannot refine raw bitumen. The NEB ruled that issues of jobs and the economy were outside their mandate. My arguments for refining are generally rebuffed with the assertion that Canada is too far from markets to justify refining here. But in the 1970s we had 40 refineries; now we have 16.

As to whether I am prepared to go to jail. I never thought it was significant that I was prepared to face arrest. I was part of the 5,000 strong march against KM a month ago in Vancouver. Many leaders from First Nations and some from municipal governments were taking a pledge to stand together. I did so as well. But when the media latched on to it, you could swear I had been seeking attention about my own personal resolve. Far from it.

My point was that the level of opposition to KM was so deep that thousands of British Columbians would choose the path of non-violent civil disobedience.

The decision to approve KM was not based on science. It is all politics. It is all about the federal Liberals trying to help the Alberta NDP. The Alberta economy requires urgent help. But it must not be delivered at the cost of B.C.’s economy and environment.

It is possible to help Alberta without sacrificing B.C.

Non-violent civil disobedience has a long tradition traced to Henry David Thoreau to Gandhi to Martin Luther King. And Canadian MPs have been arrested in such actions in the past. My hope is that no one will face arrest to protect our coastlines.

Elizabeth May,  Member of Parliament, Saanich-Gulf Islands