Northwest BC could become a major global supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG). If projects move forward, the ocean-port towns of Kitimat and Prince Rupert would see economic benefits from one or more LNG terminal facilities.
But will it be “the cleanest LNG in the world,” as promised, or will there be acid rain and serious health impacts?
LNG facilities emit large amounts of nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxides—toxic gases, harmful to people, lakes, and forests. The provincial government commissioned several studies to assess the air emissions risks from existing and proposed industrial development in the region. Eight future scenarios for Kitimat and seven for Prince Rupert were modelled to predict pollution in the air, water, and soil.
However, the Prince Rupert and Kitimat air pollution studies do not provide proper evidence for the government to draw their conclusion that “any impacts from emissions could be managed and would not significantly hurt the health of residents or the environment.”
The provincial government’s conclusion is irresponsible. At the heart of these studies is raw data that came from LNG proponents. Significant concerns exist over the quality of the air pollution data that industry provided to this study, including a lack of transparency about the data’s accuracy. Estimates of pollutants varied widely amongst different proponents, despite similarities between facilities.
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ESSA Technologies, the qualified professionals hired to do this study, highlighted this as a significant concern, stating: “emission rates vary considerably among LNG facilities… the reason for this disparity is unknown.” ESSA concluded, “…exceedance of critical levels and loads suggests that industrial emissions from the nascent LNG export sector may require careful regulation to avoid environmental impacts.”
Acid rain results from high levels of nitric and sulfuric acids in the air. The Kitimat study showed 21 out of 80 of the lakes sampled exceeded the critical load of acidity. Canadian provinces have committed to restoring 95 percent of impacted lakes to below the critical load of acidity, as part of the national acid rain strategy. The airshed studies in support of regulatory decisions should not be used to approve projects without a plan to restore the 25 percent of lakes around Kitimat that already have high acid loads.
The Prince Rupert study assessed the impact of up to 90 tonnes/day of the three main pollutants, but looked at them in isolation from each other, without evaluating their cumulative effect. Moreover, other pollutants were not assessed, despite repeated requests from local health and environmental groups. Further, only one year of data was used for the models, and there was no estimation of increased numbers of hospital visits.
Most concerning is that long-term health risks were not assessed because they were deemed “outside the study.” These air pollutants are linked to increased rates of cancer, heart attacks, stroke, lung disease, decreased brain function and premature births. The Canadian medical association estimates over 20,000 Canadians die from air pollution each year.
These studies are an excellent example of why we need to reform the way we assess environmental impacts. With the current professional reliance model, the industry is responsible for gathering the data and hiring professionals to undertake impact assessments in support of regulatory decisions. They retain a broad degree of control over the assessments and distribution and publication of information.
SkeenaWild wants impact assessments for industrial projects to be done by independent scientists – no longer hired and overseen by industry, and at arm’s length from government decision-making bodies promoting the industry. Further, baseline data on the environment and public health should be collected and held in the public trust.
With three LNG facilities proposed for Kitimat that will burn natural gas for power, there is a risk of large amounts of toxic air pollution, in addition to Rio Tinto’s dramatic increase of sulphur dioxide pollution from its new aluminum smelter. A transparent and accountable regulatory process would assist all levels of government to put policy and guidelines in place to ensure resident’s health and their environment are protected.
The provincial government has acknowledged their current professional reliance model of natural resource management is broken. We hope they use this opportunity to overhaul the system; anything less will not protect British Columbians or restore public trust.
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust
SkeenaWild Conservation Trust is a northwest BC organization that uses science, laws and community engagement to protect and strengthen vulnerable salmon populations, improve management decisions, empower communities, and deepen people’s connections to wild salmon.
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