Why is Canadian LNG largely unregulated?

On Monday, March 21st, 2016 in Articles by Elizabeth, Island Tides

British Columbians need to have a say on the provincial government’s commitment to link the province’s economic future to a very large bet on LNG. The total number of plants currently proposed for BC approach in volume the entire current global capacity. Yet, any review of the global industry reveals declining demand. When examined for its greenhouse gas implications, the LNG bet is a bet against making our targets and avoiding catastrophic climate change. The natural gas in the BC industry is not conventional; it is fracked. And fracked natural gas has the same carbon impact as coal.

It is instructive to review the rules and regulations surrounding the LNG industry in the US and compare them to those in Canada. Whether one is for or against Premier Christy Clark’s commitment to tie the economic future of BC to the LNG industry, at a minimum, British Columbians would assume that the industry will be stringently regulated for the safety of all our citizens. But the more I dig into it, the more Canadian regulation of LNG reminds me of the way Transport Canada regulated the railcars perched on the hillside above Lac Megantic, Quebec. It did not violate any Transport Canada regulation that highly dangerous Bakken crude was left unattended without the brakes on, in an antiquated rail car on a train track on the hill above the town. We know that the railcars rolled down hill creating a fireball that destroyed the centre of the Lac Megantic, killing 47 people. Following that disaster, Transport Canada began tightening up the rules.

We cannot afford to establish a highly dangerous industry in BC—or anywhere in Canada—without first ensuring we have a robust regulatory system to ensure public safety.

Liquified Natural Gas, while a fossil fuel, does not behave anything like crude oil or bitumen. It is highly volatile and flammable. It is shipped once it has been super-cooled to minus 160 degrees. Condensed it is smaller by volume. An accident causing LNG to leak will not coat our coastlines with a toxic and nasty crude-like mess.

A pierced hull can result in the ship going off like a bomb. Or the LNG can leak out of an LNG tanker and pool above the water. In the case of a leak over ocean water, the volume of LNG grows once escaped from its liquid condition on board. As the liquid natural gas escapes its volume expands 600 times to a gas. When over water the gas can mix with water vapor and form a highly dangerous vapor cloud which is heavier than air. The vapor cloud floats over the ocean, subject to local winds. As it disperses, mixing with the surrounding air and water vapor, the concentration of natural gas diminishes. Only when the natural gas component drops to 15% does the vapor cloud become highly flammable. Such a cloud could become enormous, covering a very large area both over water and over land. Then when it finds an ignition source it can still go off like a bomb.  Protecting population adjacent to LNG tanker routers from such extremely unlikely events, is the responsibility of the governments.

In the US, there are two kinds of regulations to address these threats. One is a set back—or exclusion zone—preventing any other vessels, whether commercial ships, fishing boats or recreational crafts, anywhere near the LNG tankers. The setback zones can be as large as 1.5 kilometres in all directions from the vessel. The US government has specifically raised the concern of LNG vessels becoming the target of opportunistic terrorist attack. (No need to make your own bomb if the LNG industry does it for you.)

Canada as yet has no such exclusion zones. The previous government explained this by saying Canada did not have the same risk of terrorist attack. Odd, since the secret police act C- 51 was justified based on claiming Canada was being specifically targeted by jihadi extremists and we seem to think our airport security has to seize toothpaste in packaging that allows more than 100 ml of the dangerous stuff—but LNG tankers are just fine. I believe the new government will have to establish exclusion zones. LNG industry sources tell me they do not expect to have exclusion zones more than 250 meters.

Meanwhile there are also US rules about the proximity to populated areas along the travel routes to ensure toxic gas clouds cannot form and annihilate a community in an accident. In this the LNG Canada project proposed for Kitimat BC has already been reviewed in the TERMPOL process by Transport Canada. In a document prepared by Transport Canada, it is claimed that the best science used in the US, from the Sandia National Laboratories calls for avoiding critical infrastructure or populated areas within 250-750 meters. The report provides a footnote to a Sandia report. But when you go to that footnote, the zone considered at risk is not the 250-750 meters claimed in the TERMPOL report. In fact, Sandia estimates the danger zone at up to 1600 meters. Transport Canada will have to explain how and why they cited an erroneous margin for safety. Lastly, within the US, there are regulations coming into force to deal with the amount of waste heat dumped into the waterways near the LNG plant itself. California has just taken action to phase out and ban single use water systems. So too has New York. The waste water does damage, particularly in smaller enclosed waterways, like Howe Sound or the Saanich inlet. Every new major LNG facility proposed in BC is being built to the new standard for zero discharge of waste heat. That is, every major new LNG facility, except the Woodfibre plant planned for Howe Sound and Steelhead LNG attempting to be approved in the Saanich Inlet.

In the case of Steelhead LNG the cooling will be done by taking in ocean water, and then dumping it back in the inlet, ten degrees hotter than the intake. The water will also be chlorinated. The volume at Steelhead’s facility will be 50,000 tonnes/hour of warmed water dumped back in our small enclosed inlet. At the least any LNG facility on our waterways must use best available technology of closed loop systems. As a federal MP, I will apply my efforts at working to ensure regulations are put in place ahead of the approval of plants without proper regulation.

Originally published in Island Tides.

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  • Shawn Warn

    good article, glad to see it has gotten your attention…1 point i would like to add is regarding this proposed pulpwood deal, is it really in Canada and Canadians best interest to be giving foreign corporations guarantees of no increased taxes, no environmental incurred tax costs ect……CANADIANS DON’T GET GUARANTEES ON TAXES WHY SHOULD WE GIVE THEM TO CORPORATIONS…..especially foreign ones with such colorfull pasts as Petronas

  • NotInToday

    I’m still appalled by the environmental approval of Woodfibre LNG. Does McKenna not realize that explicit approval of LNG export is tacit approval of pollution-intensive fracking?

    • pwlg

      I believe she does but like previous Liberal governments the corporate lobbyists and their masters have been flocking to Ottawa to ensure the LNG proponents interests are secured. Howe Sound has given a century of its life to our industrialization: a mercury polluting chemical plant, a leachate leaking copper mine, a chlorine dioxin toxic pulp mill, wharf and shipping infrastructure on most of the Squamish River’s estuary. We’ve taken much more from the Sound, it’s time to let the Sound heal and become alive again.

  • pwlg

    “50 million litres per hour”. Shell’s Prelude Floating LNG ship that processes 5.3 million tonnes per year. Stealhead’s proposes using floating LNG at Bamberton, Saanich Peninsula. But little is known of Stealhead’s real proposal as it has yet to submit documents to agencies and the public on what it really plans to do. Shell’s Prelude FLNG is 30 stories tall and the length is greater than 4 football/soccer fields.

  • pmagn

    Thank u EM.
    What’s going on with our federal n provincial govs in name of profit is deceptive, immoral n criminal.

  • Melody

    Does the federal government let this slide, or are they approving it?

  • Susan Draper

    You don’t need to regulate an industry that doesn’t exist. Just say no to LNG. If it’s harmful to the earth and we don’t need it, why are we doing it?

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