Squamish District Declares Woodfibre LNG ‘Unwelcome’ Unless It Meets Paris Targets
The Woodfibre LNG liquefied natural gas project should be unwelcome in Squamish, British Columbia unless it can align with the greenhouse gas reduction goals in the 2015 Paris Agreement, district councillors decided earlier this month, in a hotly-debated preliminary motion adopted by a 4-3 margin.
The Squamish Chief says a final vote on the issue is expected at a special meeting “in the coming months”. The motion would ultimately direct the district’s opinion to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office, which is currently considering a five-year extension of Woodfibre’s environmental certificate, which expires in October. At least one local citizens’ group says that review should reflect new information that has emerged over the last five years, particularly on the scope of the climate emergency and the urgency of deep emission reductions.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
The Woodfibre LNG project is located on Howe Sound, at a former pulp mill and industrial site on the traditional territory of the Squamish Nation, about seven kilometres southwest of the municipal district. It was recently delayed by at least a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are well aware that our work on our climate change file is not just going to be led by the District, but it’s going to require every single one of us in our community—that’s individuals, corporate citizens—to start thinking and working in this direction,” one district councillor told a meeting May 12. “And this is a clear message that Woodfibre is one of those businesses that will need to start working in this direction as well. It does not specifically preclude them from receiving an environmental certificate extension, it just means they have to have a plan in place. And I don’t think that’s unreasonable to be asking of a company of this size.”
But Councillor Eric Andersen objected that the climate action plan recently adopted by the district had explicitly excluded heavy industry like Woodfibre.
“We’ve just gone through a community climate action plan exercise, and there were two elements in that, that the process couldn’t really do much about…for measurement and action plans,” Andersen. “That is for highway commuting and Woodfibre. And there were others, as well. But we did have that opportunity and forum to address these issues and I look at them the same.”
Another councillor argued the motion was tabled with too little notice, leaving insufficient time for councillors and district staff to review background arguments.
Woodfibre LNG President David Keane said he was “surprised and disappointed” by the motion, adding that the company has been an active member of the community for seven years and “has consistently gone above and beyond to engage with council and residents.” But The Squamish Chief says at least one local citizens’ group welcomed the decision.
“We are really pleased that the District of Squamish is raising the concerns about the climate impacts of Woodfibre LNG and how the District is going to meet their climate targets if this project goes ahead,” said Tracey Saxby of My Sea to Sky, adding that the review of the environmental certificate should factor in new information that has emerged since 2015.
“We do not believe Woodfibre LNG should receive an extension to their environmental assessment certificate because of these changes in economic context, the changes to local, provincial and federal policies, and a new and emerging scientific understanding,” she added. “That includes the new information that was released in the IPCC report in 2018,” which laid out a path to stabilize average global warming at 1.5°C and set a 2030 deadline to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 45%.
“We all agree that climate change is an urgent global issue,” Keane responded. “That’s why we committed early on to reduce our emissions by 85% by using renewable electricity.” He also referred to new data, already available on the project website, on the emissions Woodfibre says it can offset by replacing coal-fired electricity in Asia.
There was no indication in the news story (and appears to be none on its website) whether the company is addressing the methane released to extract the fracked natural gas from northeastern B.C. that Woodfibre LNG intends to liquefy and ship overseas. Methane is a climate-busting greenhouse gas with 84 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over the crucial 20-year span when humanity will be scrambling to get the climate crisis under control.