The province of B.C. could do well to look at Alberta before leaping too far into liquefied natural gas, according to journalist and author of Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World’s Most Powerful Industry, Andrew Nikiforuk.
“It’s a very volatile industry,” said Nikiforuk. He will be speaking on the issue of fracking this Thursday, Feb. 25, 7 p.m. at Echo Centre.
“We’ve had a global glut of LNG compounded by a significant drop in demand in Asian markets, particularly in japan, south Korea and China which means that the LNG markets are going to be pretty volatile for probably the next decade and to tie your fortunes to an industry like that is probably not a prident thing to do,” he said in a telephone interview.
Nikiforuk doesn’t think that B.C. has taken Alberta’s lessons into account.
“B.C. has not learned the lesson and it has repeated all the same mistakes,” he said.
Instead of caution, the province has rushed ahead with development.
“The province doesn’t have a white paper on LNG development. The province has never done a paper on the risks and liabilities associated with rapid LNG development. The province hasn’t even produced a paper on the cumulative impacts of hydraulic fracturing on water resources, wildlife and First Nation rights in northern B.C. That’s irresponsible development.”
The impacts of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, have already been felt in the province.
In December 2015, B.C. Oil and Gas Commission CEO Ken Paulson said that a 4.6-magnitude earthquake near Fort St. John in August was caused by fracking.
“This seismic event was caused by hydraulic fracturing,” Paulson told the CBC.
“This industry has changed the seismic patterns of northern British Columbia already and is responsible for some of the largest earthquakes ever caused by this technology.”
The earthquakes caused by fracking have serious safety and environmental consequences, he said.
“Scientists have very serious concerns about the impacts of fracking and cracking all of these rocks underground and what that eventually is going to mean to groundwater resources and gas migration because all earthquake activity loosens gases in the ground and sends them on weird migrations, mostly into the atmosphere or into water resources,” said Nikiforuk.
“As a result, where there is a lot of fracking you have elevated levels of methane, CO2 and radon in the atmosphere above the fields being fracked.”
According to Health Canada, inhaling radon can damage lung cells and increase incidences of lung cancer.
According to Nikiforuk, there are no upsides to the LNG industry—not even jobs.
“That’s the first fallacy. LNG is not a job making industry, it never has been, never will be. It’s a capital intensive industry.
“You’re spending billions of dollars to build very high complex machinery that then only requires about 100-200 people to run. When you have to spend billions and billions of dollars just to employ 300 people, that’s a terrible job creation plan.”
The industry’s claims about job creation are overblown, he adds—and that includes the estimates that Steelhead LNG and the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, who are partnering on a proposed $30 billion LNG plant at Sarita Bay. Estimates given by former Huu-ay-aht executive director James Edwards included 3,000-4,000 construction phase jobs and 300-400 operating jobs.
“I would say that almost all those job figures are inflated and certainly for the amount of jobs that will be created during the construction phase. Industry always does this, they always come up with inflated figures and reality never matches the promises made by industry. The oil and gas industry has a long historic record of promising the moon and delivering much less.”
Most of the jobs involved in constructing LNG plants will be created in China, where the plants will be constructed with only basic assembly taking place in B.C., he said.
Nikiforuk has harsh words for anyone thinking that LNG facilities don’t have a direct hand in causing the environmental issues outlined above.
“Those are immoral and criminal statements. It’s like saying that pipelines shouldn’t be concerned about the greenhouse gas emissions of the extraction of bitumen. That’s a kind of weird disassociation from reality. You can’t have LNG without fracking and you can’t have fracking without making earthquakes and contaminating groundwater and industrializing forests of northern B.C.”
While Steelhead LNG has been lauded for its consultative process with the Huu-ay-aht, Nikiforuk said that the industry has a much uglier face up north.
“The reason that LNG proponents come to first nations is because they think they can get a much better deal there than they can anywhere else and they want to take advantage of that,” he said, adding that the rights of Treaty 8 nations have not been respected.
But the long-term impacts of the LNG industry will be felt on Vancouver Island.
“People on the Island also need to start wondering, okay, so if three proposed terminals are actually built, what are they going to do when natural gas runs out in northern B.C.? Nikiforuk said.
“The Island actually has a lot of coal seams. The government has explored these coal seams, they know that they are methane rich. So in the future, when these LNG terminals in B.C. demand that the coal seams on the Island be fracked in order to keep their facilities full? Those are the kinds of long-term questions and analysis that just hasn’t taken place in the province.
Nikiforuk will be presenting “The Reality of LNG: Fracking, earthquakes and fractured economies” at Echo Centre on Thursday, Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. Admission is by a suggested donation of $10.