Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fracking is a bridge to nowhere for B.C.

By Maude Barlow:

As world leaders meet in Paris this weekend, the recent terrorist shootings in the city will still be on the minds of most delegates. Yet it will have to take second place to another kind of crisis: climate change. The impact of extreme weather, droughts, floods, and rising temperatures on our ecosystems, our economies, and our communities must be halted before it gets worse—much worse. 

This will require a transition off of fossil fuels and on to cleaner forms of energy, which is 100 percent possible by 2050. One of the most insidious challenges of this transition, however, is the myth that fracking is a “bridge” to a low-carbon future. 

Requiring over 700 chemicals, many of them highly toxic if not carcinogenic, fracking releases 30 percent more methane than conventional methods of extraction. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 105 times more warming impact than carbon dioxide. 

Originally used as a means to extract oil, fracking’s next frontier is liquefied natural gas (LNG). Supercooled to -163°C in coastal terminals, fracked gas would be shipped to foreign markets on some of the largest tankers in the world. In British Columbia, there are up to 20 proposals for LNG terminals, from the North Coast down to Squamish, Vancouver Island, Delta, and Tsawwassen. Yet the federal government does not have shipping regulations or standards in place for LNG tankers despite the fact that it is considering approving these projects. 

The Christy Clark government has promised 100,000 jobs in the LNG industry. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, however, after researching examples from Australia's LNG industry and uncovering the B.C. government’s estimates, finds these projections overly optimistic. 

The Woodfibre terminal, seven kilometres from downtown Squamish, could produce roughly 2.1 million metric tonnes of fracked gas, which would be shipped through Howe Sound for export. The WesPac Midstream terminal proposed for the Fraser River, the longest river in B.C., is in Delta—only 30 kilometres away from downtown Vancouver. Both these projects would pose heightened safety risks to communities along the route.

Pacific Northwest (PNW), led by Malaysian-owned Petronas, is proposing an LNG terminal in the heart of the Skeena Estuary on Lelu Island and Flora Bank. One of the frontrunners of the LNG proposals, it threatens the Skeena River. The impact on the largest salmon run in the world, not to mention the integrity of the waterway, would be devastating. Despite PNW’s assurances that Flora Bank is “resilient”, this is possibly the worst place on the North Coast in which to situate an LNG terminal.

Lax Kw’alaams Hereditary Chief Yahaan (Donnie Wesley)—along with over 90 Northern B.C. First Nations leaders, environmental organizations, unions, scientists and prominent Canadians like David Suzuki, Wade Davis, and the Council of Canadians—recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, calling on them to reject the PNW LNG plant. Chief Yahaan warned, “PNW LNG is poised to cause irreparable damage... and potential catastrophe for the fisheries economy thousands of people depend on.”

The Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline that would supply fracked gas to the Petronas LNG plant on Lelu Island is being challenged by Luutkudziiwus, a 600-member House Group of the Gitxsan Nation. They have closed their traditional territory of Madii Lii to all pipeline development since August 2014, and will be filing a legal challenge over the B.C. regulatory permits. 

Now in its sixth year, the Annual Unist’ot’en Camp in the B.C. interior hosts a diversity of people to lend solidarity to the resistance against the numerous oil and gas pipelines on Unist’ot’en territory. 

Under the banner of the Global Frackdown, over 1,200 organizations signed a letter urging governments in advance of the Paris climate talks to reject fracking and move towards a 100 per cent renewable energy future. 

While the Harper years were disastrous for those of us who engage in meaningful stewardship of resources, there have been renewed signs of change coming from Ottawa. Only days after his swearing-in, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to a moratorium on oil tanker traffic along the northern coast of British Columbia.

I strongly urge Trudeau to continue on this path. The time is ripe for a ban on fracking and the development of LNG terminals in Canada. The promise of oil and gas jobs doesn’t add up anymore. Canada must transition away from fossil fuels to create a green economy. It is the only way we have a fighting chance to protect our climate, wild salmon, water, and communities.

Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians and former UN Senior Advisor on Water. She will be giving the keynote address at the Water, Megacities and Global Change conference at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris during the first week of climate change negotiations.
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