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Is B.C.'s gas like Alberta's tar sands? Yes, in many ways, so it's about time we talked about it

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Earlier today in Vancouver, top officials of the B.C. government joined a day-long seminar -- or, more accurately, a love-in -- with the fossil fuel export industry organized by the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Kinder Morgan President Ian Anderson touted their plans to massively expand export of bitumen across B.C., and B.C. Energy Minister Rich Coleman -- yes, the province's energy minister is named Rich Coleman -- extolled the virtues of ramping up the province's exports of coal and gas.

Coleman told a media scrum this morning that gas is to B.C. what the oil sands are to Alberta. And he's not wrong. In fact, the analogy is far more honesty than we usually get in terms of what the expansion of gas extraction and export will mean for this province's environment and for the world's climate. 

There's nothing "natural" about fracking for gas and building new pipelines for export. It's about time we had a proper debate about this in B.C. To that end, here's a piece I wrote recently, originally published in The Source / La Source. 


The B.C. election is coming up soon -- May 14, 2013. So, for the next four months, expect this space to be devoted almost exclusively to provincial politics.

After a dozen years in power, the B.C. Liberals are expected to be unceremoniously booted out of office. It's a fate that they richly deserve. Under both Premier Gordon Campbell and his successor, Christy Clark, Liberal administrations have been all about giving more power to corporations.

 The scandals, the cuts and the arrogant way it's all been delivered has caught up with the B.C. Liberals. Ramming through the HST cost Campbell his job, and Clark has been unable to turn the party’s fortunes around. Most polls show a lead in the range of 20 percentage points for the New Democratic Party (NDP).

In an effort to close the gap, the Liberals are pulling out all the stops. If you watched the Golden Globes last week -- or, for that matter, just about any other prime time television -- you have probably seen the B.C. government's advertising blitz. Oddly, the taxpayer-funded ads boast of Victoria’s lack of "careless spending"; the timing and ubiquitousness of the TV spots look like desperation by the Liberals, who of course deny any partisan intent behind the ads.

Campbell's tenure saw deep and vicious attacks against the the labour movement. In terms of the environment, despite the government’s pro-business approach it at least nodded to the serious reality of climate change. In 2007 it passed the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reduction Targets Act, requiring a 33 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 and 80 per cent cut by 2050 as compared to 2007 levels. On paper, this is still one of the best climate change policies of any jurisdiction in North America.

As with everything to do with the urgent need to prevent runaway climate change, however, words on paper are no match for facts on the ground, or the profit-hungry corporations looking to extract and sell the fossil fuels beneath the ground.

In Christy Clark’s brief stint as premier, it has become abundantly clear she has no intention of seriously trying to meet the legally binding targets her own B.C. Liberal government has established. Concern for climate change has almost vanished entirely from the Liberals public discourse under her tenure; what remains is basically one-note cheerleading for all manner of expansion of the extractive, fossil fuel export business.

Clark’s brief stint has featured full-steam-ahead plans to bring new coals mines on line, to rapidly expand infrastructure for the expansion of gas exports and a drive to find new overseas markets for B.C. businesses.

Clark’s stance on Enbridge is instructive. After a long period of silence on the controversial proposed tar sands pipeline, Clark came out with five conditions for B.C. accepting the project. There was no mention of climate change, even though campaigners worldwide have focused on the destructive impact of building new tar sands export infrastructure like pipelines.

The centrepiece of Clark’s economic development plans is B.C.’s Natural Gas Strategy. Canadian Centre for Policy Development economist Marc Lee describes the government as aiming “to double or even triple gas production via fracking in the Northeast, pipeline that gas to the coast, compress it to LNG [Liquid Natural Gas], and ship it to Asia.” According to Lee, “If realized, it would be like putting at least 24 million cars on the roads of the world,” making it “virtually impossible to meet the targets set out in the GHG law.”

The plans to continue the rapid expansion of B.C.’s gas sector are especially alarming given that much of it involves the dangerous practice of hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” which has been linked to groundwater pollution and earthquakes. Yes, earthquakes. Concerns about the harmful impact of fracking have led many jurisdictions around the world to ban or place a moratorium on the practice.

One would hope that the upcoming B.C. election campaign would be a chance for a serious debate about fracking. But there is little sign of it yet. Environmental NGOs – with some exceptions – have been relatively quiet on the issue. The NDP has indicated support for the LNP projects and associated natural gas pipelines but, has, recently, come out in favour of a “broad public review of fracking.” The B.C. Greens take a clearer position, calling for a moratorium on fracking.

Will fracking be an election issue this May? Well, first voters have to know about the issue, and there’s been precious little public education yet.

As is often the case, local First Nations in the affected area have taken the lead in raising the alarm about fracking.

In a petition signed by over 20,000, the Fort Nelson First Nation explains: “The introduction of shale gas extraction and hydraulic fracking methods in British Columbia could present the largest and most destructive industrial force that our waters have ever known.”


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