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BC LNG exports would have net GHG reductions: study

Study focused specifically on potential LNG exports from Kitimat to Asia
Johns Hopkins analysis says switching from coal to natural gas can result in up to 60% reduction in GHGs.

(Editor's Note: The original story, which stated the study was from Johns Hopkins, has been changed to reflect that it was a joint study involving the University of Calgary and Johns Hopkins, as well as two other universities.)

A single large liquefied natural gas plant would make it virtually impossible for B.C. to meet its climate change commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, says Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, who has vowed to bring the NDP government down if it continues to pursue an LNG industry.

LNG supporters argue Weaver is ignoring the benefits of exporting LNG to places like China, where LNG that displaced coal power would result in a net reduction of GHGS.

To date, that assertion has not been backed by any detailed analysis of life-cycle GHGs specific to LNG produced in B.C. and shipped to Asia.

But that analysis has now been done through a joint study involving the University of Calgary and Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and it confirms there would be a net benefit. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Southern Methodist University were also involved in the analysis.

“The potential economic and environmental benefits have made the justification for exporting natural gas from Canada to the Asia-Pacific region compelling, with China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan being the most likely destination,” concludes the report, published in Environmental Science and Technology.

A similar study in 2014 by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) came to similar conclusions: LNG used to replace coal power or pipeline gas from Russia in Europe could be a net environmental benefit.

But that study was based on LNG produced in the U.S. and shipped from the Gulf Coast to Europe. In addition to much longer shipping distances, there are other variables in that analysis that meant it could not be simply extrapolated to B.C.

The newer joint study is the first that specifically analyzed the life-cycle GHGs of LNG produced in B.C. and shipped from Kitimat to Asia.

“The climate implications of these findings will be important for policymakers as they consider LNG export policies, trade agreements, as well as national electricity generation and environmental policies,” the study notes.

Reseacrhers identified 12 potential markets for LNG produced in B.C. For the purpose of their study, they zeroed in on five: China, India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The Asia-Pacific market represents 75% of global LNG imports.

Whether or not there are net benefits from LNG used to generate power depends on what other power generation methods it would displace. Jordaan’s study notes that there would be no net benefit if LNG exports prevented the adoption renewable energy.

“Due to plummeting costs of renewable power, it may increasingly be able to compete economically with gas-powered electricity generation in non-OECD Asian countries,” the study notes. “In this scenario, LNG imports would result in increased greenhouse gas emissions in importing countries.”

But both the NETL and U of C-Johns Hopkins studies confirm there would be net benefit if LNG imports displace coal power. And in China, there is a major move to phase out coal power.

“The retirement of coal-fired power and addition of natural gas-fired electricity results in reductions of numerous pollutants (e.g. mercury) and up to 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions intensity for power generations,” the study finds.

The net reductions of GHGs can vary widely, depending on things like power plant age and design and power grid efficiency, and the study notes that it is “extremely difficult to predict the specific end use of natural gas.”

Overall, however, it concludes there could be significant GHG reductions from LNG shipped from B.C. to Asia.

For the purpose of their analysis, researchers assumed annual production of 18.5 million metric tonnes of LNG production annually from B.C.

That is roughly how much a single large LNG plant like the one proposed by a Shell-led consortium – LNG Canada – would produce.

In terms of emissions, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency calculated the LNG Canada project would produce 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2e), which would increase B.C. GHG emissions by 6.6% and Canada’s by 0.57%.

According to the analysis, the net reductions of GHGs in Asia would range from 6.5 Mt CO2e (Japan) to 9.9 Mt CO2e (Taiwan).

The modeling for Japan is complicated by the fact that’s Japan’s use of gas and oil increased dramatically following the Fukushima power plant meltdown.

“Overall, our results suggest that there is a net environmental benefit in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reduction when importing Canadian natural gas for electricity generation in the five countries considered, except for the case of Japan prior to Fukushima nuclear disaster,” the report concludes.

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