LNG coming to BC, big and fast. Are you ready?

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The panel titled “Skills Development Planning” foresaw labour shortages. LNG plants could be built elsewhere and floated in, as Australia did with an LNG plant constructed in Korea. “Fly in and out camps” were contemplated. Panelists suggested cooperation between the proponents by staggering construction schedules so that labourers could move from one to another. 

Some discussion focussed on how to train people who aren’t the usual cohorts: aboriginal people, women and people without high school diplomas. Building competency means instilling company loyalty, commitment to show up to shift work, literacy and numeracy.

The post secondary institutions (BCIT, UBC, Northern Lights) said they would need time to tool off and industry could help with strategic investments and apprenticeships. One panelist said the B.C. mantra should be industry driven training. UBC noted that accreditation requirements means it educates students into generalists who take to specialization easily and can change specializations without difficult as demand requires.

The production fields are already effectively at full employment with 1,300 workers. If the number of workers doubles, they will need to come from outside the province. For LNG plant operations, the numbers drop to 250 workers per plant.

The carbon/climate problem

Anders Ekvall of Shell Canada’s LNG subsidiary was the only person to address climate change. “With rising energy demand, supply pressure and climate change,” he said, “we are entering a zone of uncertainty.”  In response, Shell is developing all energy supplies, from unconventional to renewables.  Ekvall stated that replacing coal with gas is the fastest way to reduce CO2 emissions. (The International Energy Agency has stated that the net effect of natural gas on climate change is negative because its low cost displaces renewable and recent studies have found that, including life cycle emissions such as leakage, it is as bad as or worse than coal.)

In an interview, economic analyst Dave Montgomery said he didn’t think that a price on carbon or regulations would impact the export scenario. “I do not see China and India in any way letting climate change issues get in the way of getting a cheap source of natural gas,” he said, “nor Japan either.  Low cost LNG is strategically so much more important to their economy than anything else.”

Nor does he see any possibility of the world curtailing fossil fuel use to meet the 80% reduction by 2050 that the IPPC says the world must make to prevent catastrophic climate change. In his view, meeting that goal would first require China to make the transition to a more open, democratic system. The population might vote for measures to prevent climate disasters but the government in its present form has never shown much concern for the impact of natural disasters on its population. India, Montgomery stated, would have to free itself from a staggering bureaucracy. 

I asked whether the urgency might grow as the consequences of climate change become clearer. “It depends on what the consequences are and whether they do come clear,” he said. When I recounted the interview to my husband, climate blogger Barry Saxifrage, he responded, “The consequences are already starting to worry people and the laws of physics guarantee that they are going to get a lot worse. If there’s two things people care about and pay attention to, they are dangerous weather and the price of food.” 

Are you ready, B.C.?

Some conference participants believe that the B.C. government is naively optimistic in its belief that the LNG opportunity can be so easily captured and that, even if it is, it won’t work the expected wonders for the B.C. economy.

But it is clear that the B.C. Liberals will do everything possible to make it a reality. The B.C. NDP, according to energy critic John Horgan,“support the diversification of markets for natural gas.” Even the Greens seem shy of opposition: “BC Greens would require that BC’s short and long-term energy needs be fully met before foreign energy sales take place.”

If the five planned LNG plants are built, B.C. will export 294 tonnes of CO2 by 2020, over six times its 2020 legislated targets. Some critics compare fossil fuel exports to asbestos: it’s legal, but ethically questionable.  They note that there’s no question that exporting carbon to countries without strong climate policies moves us closer to catastrophic, irreversible climate change.

Some number of B.C. citizens believe scientists’ predictions and time frames for climate change risks and don’t want their province growing the most deadly part of its economy. How many? A May election makes this a crucial time to speak up and demand a plan for economic development that steers B.C. away from “business as usual” fossil fuel development. That path has ultimate costs that it is unethical to ask others to pay.

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