Canada’s Next Big LNG Project May Be The Sleeper Climate Issue Of 2024

Jan 10, 2024 | Climate, Fisheries, Ksi Lisims LNG Project, LNG Development

One of the biggest climate stories in Canada in 2024 might well prove to be a project that, so far at least, few in the country have heard of — Ksi Lisims LNG.

Here are the basics: While the lead public proponent of this latest liquified natural gas (LNG) terminal is the Nisga’a Nation (whose territory encompassed the Nass River Valley in northwestern B.C.), the less prominent partners are Alberta-based Rockies LNG (a consortium of oil and gas companies) and Texas-based Western LNG, both of which are busily lobbying the B.C. government. The proposed LNG terminal would be on a floating platform at the mouth of the Nass River bordering the Alaska Panhandle. The facility aims to produce 12 million tonnes of LNG a year. A major new pipeline would be needed to carry fracked methane gas from northeastern B.C. to the terminal, where it would be liquified and loaded on tankers for shipment to Asia. Fossil fuel giant Shell has just signed a deal to buy one-sixth of the LNG the facility will produce over its first 20 years.

This sleeper proposal is currently seeking approval from B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), which is also reviewing the project on behalf of the federal government. The project proponents have assembled a sleek pitch. At an EAO-hosted information session late last year, it was clear the project was well advanced (the presentation made the project feel like a done deal). That said, during the recent public comment period, the EAO received an unusually high number of submissions, most of which were opposed to the project.

The EAO’s decision, which will likely come sometime this year, will be a defining one because, like the earlier-approved LNG Canada project in nearby Kitimat, Ksi Lisims has the potential to be a major carbon bomb.

While I respect the need of the Nisga’a Nation to secure new forms of employment and economic development, the Ksi Lisims LNG project cannot be the answer. Its harm to the climate far surpasses the benefits.

The project proponents contend Ksi Lisims will have low greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, be “net zero” by 2030, and will be fully electrified (meaning the vast energy needed to super-cool the gas to liquify it will come from BC Hydro’s electricity grid, rather than from the burning of gas, as occurs in most other LNG facilities). But the contention that upstream and transportation emissions are well mitigated is simply not credible, given what we know about methane leakages (from the fracked gas extraction to the methane off-gassing during loading, shipping and unloading). The project would lock in a huge expansion of fracking in B.C.’s northeast and place the province’s climate targets out of reach. The combined extraction and processing emissions would likely clock in at about three megatonnes a year. Much of the “net zero” goal would inevitably rely on the purchase of dubious offsets.

The project would require construction of yet another new gas pipeline — TC Energy’s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project, roughly the same size as Coastal GasLink and built by the same company that has violated the consent of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders.

The hydroelectric power needed to power Ksi Lisims would be equivalent to all the power produced by the soon-to-be-completed Site C dam. Meaning, after all the public cost ($16 billion by the latest count), ecological disruption and Indigenous objections involved in the construction of this new hydro facility, none of its new power will be available to electrify/decarbonize our homes and vehicles.

Why Ksi Lisims would be a carbon bomb

Most importantly, the “net-zero” claim ignores the greenhouse gases that would be emitted when the LNG produced by Ksi Lisims reaches its destination and is burned, known as Scope 3 emissions.

Conveniently for the B.C. and federal governments and the Ksi Lisims proponents, under global GHG accounting conventions, these Scope 3 (or downstream) emissions don’t count towards B.C.’s carbon pollution. Once the LNG produced by this facility is shipped overseas and burned elsewhere, its GHGs count towards the emissions of the destination country. But let us be clear — the global atmosphere we all share doesn’t give a flying fart about such accounting rules or “man-made” lines on a map. As Bill McKibben and others have argued, it’s long past time oil and gas exporting countries got a free pass on the emissions of their fossil fuel exports.

In an era when the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency are all sounding the alarm that the world cannot abide new fossil fuel infrastructure, to ignore Scope 3 emissions and proceed with a project of this size is an abdication of B.C. and Canada’s international, moral and climate obligations.

Ksi Lisims aims to produce 12 megatonnes a year of liquified gas (meaning the terminal would produce almost as much liquified gas as Shell’s giant LNG Canada Phase 1 facility in Kitimat). When 12 megatonnes of LNG is burned, it produces approximately 32 megatonnes of GHGs (using a widely accepted conversion rate of about 2.7). That is equivalent to more than half of British Columbia’s total annual emissions.

Think about that. Currently, British Columbia’s climate plan commits the province to lower GHG emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. So if this project goes ahead, literally everything the province accomplishes to reduce carbon pollution will be undone — in global climatic terms — by this single project.

LNG proponents’ most preferred argument is that LNG shipped to Asia will displace coal-generated electricity there, thereby doing the world a climate favour (given that burning coal, so the claim goes, produces more GHGs than burning gas). But this is simply wishful thinking on the part of LNG’s apologists. In truth, we do not know what LNG shipped from here will displace overseas. It could displace the speedier implementation of renewables or nuclear power. And even if it did displace coal, there is a growing body of research that, when the full life cycle emissions of LNG are captured (particularly the leaked methane from the fracking and transportation of the gas), the GHG profile of LNG is at best equivalent and sometimes dramatically worse than coal.

The days of seeing LNG and gas as a “transition fuel” are long past; if gas was ever a bridge fuel, it was a bridge to the present. We ran out the clock. Now we need to leap right to renewables — the cheapest and cleanest alternatives already at hand.

Contested Indigenous consent

The Indigenous consent issues associated with the project are complex. As it becomes harder for fossil fuel projects to gain approval, the industry is getting smarter. Ksi Lisims is part of a larger recent trend of oil and gas companies formally partnering with Indigenous nations in order to pitch their projects as “economic reconciliation” (the latest LNG project to get approval was Cedar LNG, where Pembina Pipelines partnered with the Haisla and provided the First Nation with a 51 per cent ownership stake). Economic hardship makes the appeal of such projects understandable. But in the context of poverty and unemployment, the degree to which consent is genuinely freely given is an open question.

Clearly, Ksi Lisims has the formal support of the Nisga’a Nation government (although it is opposed by some individual Nisga’a members). But the project does not have the consent of other nearby nations. Most significantly, the neighbouring Lax Kw’alaams Nation, whose territory encompasses the mouth of the Nass River, is strongly opposed. In a statement released last November, the nation emphasized that “neither the Lax Kw’alaams Council nor the Nine Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams have approved or consented to the project.” The LNG tankers for the proposed project would pass through Lax Kw’alaams territory. Additionally, the floating terminal will be off a small island in the Nass estuary known as Pearse Island — or Wil Milit by the Nisga’a. The terminal would be tied to a plot of land conventionally “owned” by the Nisga’a but outside the Nisga’a formal treaty area, and the Lax Kw’alaams claim the island as part of their territory.

Last month, the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs also raised concerns about the project, noting that the floating LNG terminal in the Nass River estuary could negatively impact juvenile salmon upon which the Gitanyow rely. They have also flagged that the pipeline needed to carry gas to the proposed LNG facility “has the potential to cross more than 50 kilometres of Gitanyow Lax’yip [territory], including four Wilp (House Group) territories.” The hereditary chiefs also expressed concerns about the climate impacts of the project.

The Ksi Lisims proposal highlights that a significant (but unquantified) number of permanent jobs would be created for local Indigenous people on the site of the proposed project (although the floating facility itself will be mostly built overseas). Those jobs are needed, but there are alternatives. The B.C. government should be making a counter-offer that speaks to both the economic/employment needs of the local nation and to the climate imperative we all confront.

Here’s an idea: there are thousands of marine vessels all along the coast that urgently need to be converted to electric marine battery systems. The province could partner with the Nisga’a Nation and provide such a service on the floating platform proposed for this LNG facility. Hundreds of people could be trained and locally employed, and the service could well earn handsome revenues for years.

That’s just one example. There is so much work to be done as we transition our society off fossil fuels and make our communities and natural ecosystems more resilient to extreme weather. It starts, however, with vision and political will to offer a different path. And a determination to offer public investments and genuine partnerships that represent a more hopeful offer than the pitches coming from the oil and gas companies.

Posterity will be clear on this matter: if this project proceeds, decades from now it will stand as one of the most significant legacies of the B.C. government. But not one with which anyone in today’s government will want to be associated, nor one they will care to explain to their grandchildren.

All told, we simply cannot allow a carbon bomb of such proportions to proceed. Far better, we should invest in jobs and industries that will build a resilient economy for the long term.

Read the original column by Seth Klein on Canada’s National Observer website.