Province's air pollution study green lights LNG build-up, but ignores climate change

“It’s very manipulative to exclude [greenhouse gases]… Climate change is affecting human health too" - Northern resident

Mary Polak and Kitimat air pollution from Rio Tinto Alcan
Graeme Pole No LNG No More Pipelines - Mychaylo Prystupa
Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat port Mychaylo Prystupa
(Left) B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak discussing Kitimat airshed study at a Vancouver press conference Friday - photo by Mychaylo Prystupa; (Right) Kitimat air pollution from RioTinto Alcan smelter - photo by Lis Stanus.

A much-anticipated Kitimat air pollution study for B.C’s northwest coast, that oddly ignored climate-change-worsening gases, green lights the massive build up of LNG and smelter industries as okay for the environment and people's lungs.

“The study tells us, with proper management, there is significant capacity in the Kitimat airshed to safely accommodate industrial growth, while still protecting human health and the environment,” said B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak Friday in Vancouver.

Kitimat is facing unprecedented oil and gas industry development on a pace likened recently to the growth of Fort McMurray by the municipality.  There are proposals for four new LNG facilities and an oil refinery.  Construction is also underway for a massive RioTinto Alcan aluminum smelter upgrade.

Several citizens and the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust took the province to court over the permitting of this massive build up of air pollution.  Thereafter, the government commissioned a study of the human health and enviro-impacts of the development for the surrounding area.

Trouble is, this new airshed review only considered two polluting gases: sulphur and nitrogen oxides – foul-smelling pollutants that are generally bad for asthma and acid rain.

Heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are responsible for global warming were not studied, confirmed B.C.'s environment minister.  

Yet LNG facilities would require the release of massive amounts of CO2, as a result of the energy-intensive refrigeration process that liquifies that gas to -160 Celsius, for transport to Asia.

Graeme Pole No LNG No More Pipelines - Mychaylo Prystupa

Northern paramedic Graeme Pole at a Kispiox Valley residents meeting to oppose LNG in April - Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

Watch-dogs in northern B.C. were not impressed.

“It’s very manipulative to exclude that… Climate change is affecting human health too,” said Kispiox resident, Graeme Pole, who also publishes the No More Pipelines website - a clearing house of LNG information.

“If you take the emissions from each [natural gas] pipeline, each LNG plant, and if you factor in the emissions from getting the gas from the fracking fields to the pipeline, you’re basically looking at B.C. doubling its greenhouse gas emissions at a time at a time when it should be reducing them [to its target] of 33 per cent by 2020,” said Pole on Friday.

“That’s not what this study was intended to look at,” said Minister Polak to the Vancouver Observer.

”These particular [sulphur and nitrogen oxide] substances have an immediate impact on human health, and vegetative health, and the receiving environment generally, unlike GHGs which are a more global impact, and of course have an impact on climate change,” she added. 

Polak said greenhouse gases would be factored at a later time, but did not specify when.

Asthma and acid rain concerns downplayed

Still, the study made conclusions about the impact from SOx/NOx gases being safe to human health, vegetation and water.  Only seven small lakes, less than 10 hectares in size, among hundreds in the area are expected to see significant biological damage.

Consequently, Kitimat's mayor said:

“I think the report is very good, and very, very encouraging.  It means that whatever emissions are there, can be controlled and monitored,” said Mayor Joanne Monaghan, immediately after the report’s release.

The build-up of industry will create hundreds of jobs, and is being credited with the rescue of Kitimat from a recent exodus of citizens, following the closure of a pulp mill.

The community has seen a huge influx of workers -- many are housed in an Estonian "Silja Festival" ship that's anchored in the harbour.

Tallink Silja Festival Kitimat port Mychaylo Prytupa_0684

Tallink Silja Festival ship for RioTinto Alcan workers in the Port of Kitimat - Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

Since last year, property values shot up 27 percent in Kitimat -- the highest growth in B.C.

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