Feds Never Considered Cumulative Climate Impacts Of Pacific Northwest LNG, Court Docs Reveal

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) never considered the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions of the Pacific NorthWest LNG export terminal, according to documents revealed in a federal court this week.

The documents were submitted to a federal court in Vancouver during a hearing to determine whether the information should be considered as part of a forthcoming judicial review of the federal government’s decision to approve the LNGproject.  

SkeenaWild Conservation Trust filed for the judicial review of the project’s approval and received 17,000 pages of federal documents under disclosure — the release of information required by law during legal proceedings. SkeenaWild hired two experts to give expert testimony on those documents.

One of those experts Kirsten Zickfeld, a climate scientist and associate professor of geography at Simon Fraser University, testified in a sworn affidavit that CEAA did not provide the federal government with an assessment of cumulative emissions from the project and that these emissions “should be assessed, especially…in terms of their share of a provincial or national ‘carbon budget.’ ”

A second expert, policy and technical analyst from the Pembina Institute Maximilian Kniewasser, testified in a sworn affidavit that Canada considered imposing conditions on the project to limit carbon pollution, such as requiring the project be powered by grid electricity rather than natural gas, but chose not to despite doing so to varying degrees for two other LNG projects, LNG Canada and Woodfibre LNG.

The federal government and Pacific NorthWest LNG asked the court to strike the affidavits from consideration as evidence on the basis that they are “inadmissible…extrinsic evidence.”  

Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild, argued the two affidavits should be considered as evidence in the upcoming judicial review, likely to take place this fall.

“We are not trying to bring in new evidence,” Knox told DeSmog Canada, “just evidence to the court to show in black and white that the agency failed to provide the minister and cabinet with the proper information to make an informed decision on the project.”

Pacific NorthWest LNG To Take Up Big Chunk of Canada’s Carbon Budget

Zickfeld, an expert in climate modelling and carbon budgets, served as the lead author of the UN Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the 1.5 degree target.

Under the Paris Agreement, the majority of the world’s governments, Canada included, have agreed to limit global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius with a goal of limiting that increase to 1.5 degrees.

Efforts to work towards that goal, Zickfeld outlines, will require countries to cap their climate pollution through carbon budgets.

Depending on the type of carbon budget Canada selects, Pacific NorthWest LNG could eat up 2.5 to 11 per cent of the country’s total all-time climate pollution allowance.

“Over the lifetime of the project (here assumed to be 30 years), these annual emissions add up to about 360 million metric tons of CO2 cumulative emissions,” Zickfeld wrote.

A large part of what makes liquefied natural gas exports so carbon-intensive is the process of turning natural gas into a liquid. The process requires running massive compressor stations 24/7 to cool gas to -162 degrees Celsius, the point at which gas turns into a liquid that can be loaded onto tankers.

In the second document Kniewasser concludes the carbon emissions from the project could have been significantly reduced had the agency assessed the technical and economic feasibility of powering the LNG terminal with grid electricity, rather than with natural gas.

“I described two alternatives to power LNG projects other than burning natural gas: using grid electricity to power non-compression load, and using grid electricity to power compression load,” he wrote in his affidavit.

These alternatives could have reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project by between six per cent and 44 per cent, or 8 and 57 megatonnes of carbon emissions, every year, Kniewasser stated.

“These potential emissions reductions are especially significant given the project’s long operating life, B.C.’s legislated long-term climate targets, and Canada’s Paris climate commitments.”

Much of Pacific Northwest LNG Review Conducted Behind Closed Doors

The fact that cabinet was not apprised of the cumulative climate impacts of Pacific Northwest LNG was not a matter of public knowledge, Knox told DeSmog Canada.

“In the type of environmental assessment process we had for this project, none of that was made available to the public. And it was never provided to the public until we requested it through the legal process,” he said.

Under what is know as a standard environmental assessment process, the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency conducted a review of Pacific NorthWest LNG with no public hearing, no cross examination and no full public disclosure of documents submitted during the duration of the review.

About half of the documents that were used in the assessment process weren’t on the public record, Knox said.

“When we got those documents in the spring, that is when we got some expert witnesses to comment on the complete lack of cumulative effects assessment for climate pollution and an assessment of the viability of using electricity from the grid to reduce emissions.”

“Under CEAA both of those things should have been done and the minister in cabinet should have been given that information. That poses the question: what sort of discussions and deals were done behind the scenes and why wasn’t this proper process done to reduce and assess the climate pollution from this project?”

Knox said the federal government’s decision to approve Pacific NorthWest LNG conflicts with promises to take meaningful action on climate change.

“When the government and industry are teaming up to argue against doing their due diligence on the climate impacts of this project, it’s really disconcerting,” he said.

“I think that government in this case is standing up for the interests of industry. We believe we’re bringing information and evidence forward that is in the public’s interest.”

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