Woodfibre’s shaky climate claims

Woodfibre LNG has made climate claims over the years about the LNG it wants to export. The company suggests that its LNG would emit less green house gases than Coal used in Chinese power plants. The company bases these climate claims on an estimate of the direct emissions from its proposed facility to be built in Átl’k a7tsem/Howe Sound, while ignoring green house gas emissions upstream and downstream from its facility

Woodfibre LNG has claimed in 2022 presentations to Municipalities that its LNG would “off-set” some of the new coal fired power plants built in China. This is a pretty steep and impossible feat to claim, as it means that the green house gas emission from its LNG would be negative. (March 22,2022 – Presentation to District of Squamish Council and May 24,2022 – Presentation to Bowen Island Municipal Council)

Woodfibre LNG is still using a CO2 emissions assessment from 2015 even though the project went through a fundamental design change in 2016 with dropping sea water cooling for air cooling. Because of the absence of “…the narrow and predictable range of seawater temperatures, particularly when withdrawn at depth.”(Woodfibre LNG Project Assessment of Alternative Cooling Methods, April 2015) that sea water cooling offered, Woodfibre LNG identified in 2015 that air cooling will use more energy than sea water cooling.

Why are Woodfibre’s LNG claims unproven?

The correct way to compare two products for their green house gas emission, is to estimate and compare how much green house gases are released during every step of these products’ life cycles. Only then can you conclude and claim which fuel emits more or less green house gases.

Consequently, you cannot compare two products for their greenhouse gas emission from only a part of their life cycles. Direct emission from a facility, means just that, and for LNG facilities it means a small part of the LNG life-cycle.

During the question and answer period after the company’s presentation to Bowen Island’s Municipal Council on May 24, 2022, it became clear that the companies claims about its LNG emitting less green houses gasses than coal were based on nothing.

Note: Up stream means, any emissions that occur before the methane gas enters the facility. Down stream means, any emissions that occur after the liquefied methane leaves the facility.

How do BC LNG and Coal really compare?

We have an indication from the work done by Earth Scientist David Hughes in 2015.(LINK)

Hughes did a comparative life cycle analysis of BC LNG to be used in gas fired power plants in China was done, against Coal used in 46% efficient ultrasupercritical coal fired power plants in China. It showed that BC LNG would emit 27% more green house gasses than Coal. Only after 100 years, BC LNG would be marginally emitting less green house gasses, about 7% less.

Hughes repeated the study in 2020 and found near similar results.

Since Woodfibre LNG uses electricity instead of methane to fuel the processing of methane, its liquefaction emissions, by and far the largest amount of emissions from the facility, will be 2.71 times less than allowed in BC for LNG facilities. This means that the full life cycle emissions from its LNG are 4% lower. Woodfibre’s LNG over its life cycle will emit 23% more green house gases than coal in the above mentioned power plants.

That’s far from emitting less than coal or even “off setting” coal, and that’s why Woodfibre LNG’s climate claims are misleading.

Note: Hughes is possibly conservative in his assessments as in 2021 new research was published showing that fugitive methane emissions from fracking and fracking wells in B.C were 1.6 to 2.2 higher than previously estimated.

Note: Hughes result can be contested, like any research can, but only with the results of a life cycle analysis of the same fuels. As long that is not done, Hughes analysis by absence of any other analysis, stands.

What is a life cycle of a product?

Every product has a life cycle which starts at the moment of creation or extraction and ends the moment it is recycled, land filled or burned. Every step in between and including these two moments in time is considered. During this life cycle the environmental effects for every step of the product’s life can be quantified. For instance, an environmental effect is the emission of green house gases and for that every step in the life cycle their emissions are estimated or measured, and added up to give a final estimate or tally.

Life cycles of LNG and Coal

  • The life cycle of LNG starts with the drilling of fracking wells for methane extraction, and ends the moment that methane is used as a fuel. The steps are: Extraction by fracking, Processing (filtering), Processing of extraction fluids, Pipeline transport (which includes boosting stations along the line), Liquefaction of the Methane to LNG, Storage, Tanker transport, LNG re-gasification back into Methane, Fugitive Methane Emissions, and Power plant operations.
  • The life cycle of Coal starts with continued expansion of mining corridors, Extraction, possible Processing based on type of coal, Transportation, Storage, Power plant operations and Energy needed for Filtering of particulate matter from emissions. Also added are overhead emissions for building of mine shafts and infrastructure as they have a life time of decades.

What is a comparative life cycle analysis?

To find out what the environmental effects are of two or more products, you compare the outcomes of life cycle analysis for those two or more products.

As we are interested in the green house gas emission for BC LNG and Coal used in Chinese power plants mentioned above, the life cycle analysis will focus on green house gas emissions. This analysis will produce the total amount of green house gas emission for each fuel, consisting of total amounts for CO2, CH4 (Methane), and other green house gasses.

Note: Methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere.
Note: a life cycle analysis always consists of at least two products as one is compared to the other(s).

How up to date is the information about Woodfibre LNG?

  • Woodfibre LNG is a methane processing and export plant proposed to be built in Átl’k a7tsem/Howe Sound. And it is just that. The expansion of the Eagle Mountain pipeline to accommodate the project, and the community safety risks of LNG super tankers to traverse through Átl’k a7tsem/Howe Sound, were never seen nor officially assessed as part of the project, although they should be to assess their accumulative affects.
  • The company only assessed the direct green house gas emissions from the proposed facility itself. The Woodfibre’s 2015 Environmental Assessment submission to the BC Government included ONLY the direct emissions of the facility and they were estimated to be 129 ktCO2e/year. Fugitive methane emission from the facility were not included in the assessment, nor upstream or down stream green house gas emissions.
  • In a 2020 briefing note prepared for Woodfibre LNG by Mantle 314. The same amount of 129 ktCO2e/year is still used even though the project went through a fundamental design change with dropping the sea water cooling for air cooling (LINK), which will lead to a higher energy use, because of the absence of “the narrow and predictable range of seawater temperatures, particularly when withdrawn at depth.” that sea water cooling offered.

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