Those who have made the drive up the Sea to Sky Highway between Horseshoe Bay and Squamish, B.C. in recent days may have noticed not only the breathtaking scenery but also signs of a political nature.
"Save Our Sound," states one of the many handmade placards at Lions Bay.
"Fracking Is Ecocide," screams another, closer to the thriving community of Squamish.
It was against this backdrop -- and on the day media reported that Malaysian state-owned oil and gas giant Petronas had threatened to nix a projected future $10 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) commitment in the province because of "a lack of appropriate incentives" -- that celebrated energy journalist Andrew Nikiforuk spoke about LNG to a gathering of about 150 people at Squamish's Quest University Canada.
Squamish is the site of a proposed LNG processing and export terminal of its own -- one that would have about one-tenth the export capacity of those proposed further north in the B.C. communities of Kitimat, Prince Rupert, and Terrace.
During his 60-minute talk, organized jointly by the Council of Canadians and the Squamish-based group My Sea to Sky, Nikiforuk -- author of numerous books including the energy-industry-focused "Tar Sands and The Energy of Slaves" -- appeared mostly to be preaching to the converted.
Squamish, he said, is on what he called the "downstream" side of the LNG equation. But locals, who have voiced concerns about the environmental and safety impacts of the facility (proposed by a subsidiary of Asia-based Royal Golden Eagle International), at the old pulp mill site at Woodfibre along Howe Sound, need to pay attention to the "upstream" side as well: both the economics and the environmental impacts.
He likened the LNG exploration and extraction industry in northeastern B.C. to the Alberta tar sands. Both the bitumen extracted from the tar sands and natural gas gained through hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," are difficult and expensive to get at, with enormous impacts on the environment, Nikiforuk said.
The B.C. government's push toward LNG as an economic windfall for the province "sounds to me more like desperation, not inspiration," he said. "Business as usual is out the window in the era of extreme hydrocarbons."
Even if only six or seven of the 14 proposed LNG terminals are ever built in B.C., supplying them with sufficient amounts of gas will require the drilling and fracking of 50,000 new wells over a 25-year period, he said.
Data shows that the average resource recovery rate for fracked wells in northeastern B.C. is between 10 and 20 per cent -- the remainder of the gas, including both carbon dioxide and methane, are released into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.
Each well requires the fracking of "acres and acres of rock." Those doing the work have little control over the length and size of the fracture, Nikiforuk said. That's saying nothing about the massive amounts of water used and its impact on underground and above-ground water resources, the potential to release radioactive materials and dangerous hydrogen sulfide, and the fragmentation of the land from intensive drilling and fracking.
"Where are the studies on the implications of drilling so massively into shale rock on the land and the atmosphere?" Nikiforuk asked.
The economics are also highly questionable, he said. While the industry and government tout the promise of jobs and revenue, Nikiforuk said a growing number of experts in the field are skeptical that the windfall will ever materialize.
B.C., he said, is a "neophyte" in the industry compared to players such as Malaysia, Australia, Nigeria, and Russia. What's more, even in its condensed, liquefied form, natural gas costs seven to 10 times more to transport than do oil or coal -- a fact that has, historically, most often led to the conclusion that it's best to consume it in the region where it's produced.
U.S.-based Cambridge Energy Resource Associates recently released an investment risk assessment of the various regions supplying or looking to supply LNG to the global market. Because of the distances involved and the massive amount of investment still required to get the industry on its feet, B.C. was ranked among the riskiest, Nikiforuk said.
Attendee Glenne Campbell said she recently phoned a resource-industry investment firm in Nikiforuk's hometown of Calgary. After receiving confirmation that the company is aware of the Woodfibre LNG project, Campbell said she asked whether the firm would recommend Canadians invest in the project.
She was told it would not.
NIkiforuk questioned the government's gold-rush mentality toward LNG export. He posted a photo of former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed along with a Lougheed quote related to the tar sands: "Slow down: Behave like an owner."
Asked Nikiforuk, "If you have something valuable, what's wrong with developing it slowly?" Citizens, he said, should demand that the provincial government "completely rethink" the current LNG strategy.
Given all the impacts and uncertainties, Nikiforuk added, "Maybe one of the best things you can do in British Columbia is keeping this resource in the ground."