by Gary Porter
Natural gas is a major problem. It is primarily methane (CH4), a hydrocarbon and a greenhouse gas (GHG). But not any old greenhouse gas. Methane traps 80 times more heat than CO2. It is a mighty contributor to global warming. Although it burns cleaner than oil, after fracking, piping, compressing, shipping and distributing methane, with leaks impossible to eliminate at every step, methane is as dirty as coal.
In December 2017, just after the British Columbia New Democratic Party convention where nothing was said about it, the government of John Horgan announced, after a cursory review of the previous BC Liberal government’s plan, that the massive Site C dam would be built on the beautiful Peace River in north-eastern BC. Site C will flood 32,000 acres of land, of which about 10,000 acres is some of the best farming land in BC. Indigenous people occupied this land at least 10,000 years ago, but neither they nor the farmers were ever really given a choice in the matter.
Ecology groups argued from the beginning that the dam wasn’t needed, that BC Hydro has always provided grossly excessive forecasts of future electricity needs, even taking future electrically-powered transportation into account. Demand has been flat for 12 years, and there is an enormous surplus: around 70 TWh (trillion watts per hour) of supply versus 51 TWh of demand — which doesn’t count the large quantity of energy available under the 1961 Columbia River Treaty, typically below $30 per million watts per hour.
The climate movement contends that the dam was being built to provide the vast water and power needed by the oil and gas cartel, in order to increase fracking operations dramatically.
In October 2018, Premier Horgan proudly announced that he had obtained agreement from a global consortium, known as LNG Canada, to launch a $40 billion methane project which included a massive increase in fracking operations, a gas pipeline from the fracking fields, through unceded indigenous territories to tidewaters at Kitimat BC, and a massive new liquefaction plant at Kitimat to permit shipping in LNG carriers. The entire project would increase GHG emissions by at least 25% making the province’s GHG reduction goals difficult if not impossible to meet. It was exactly the wrong direction on climate change, led by the pro-capitalist government of the labour-based NDP. The $6.5 billion gift in tax concessions and subsidies from BC workers’ pockets was fixed. The benefits were nebulous, especially in the context of a developing surfeit of gas.
Winter 2020 witnessed massive cross-Canada protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en people against RCMP SWAT teams breaking up their blockades of the pipeline construction. Ports, highways, bridges, railways and key intersections were obstructed, including the main track between Toronto and Montreal. Iroquois blocked this vital railroad for 2 weeks. It was by far the largest outpouring of Canadian youth in solidarity with Indigenous people. Myths about the origins of settler-colonial Canada came into question, and the early establishment “heroes” were exposed for their deeply racist, profit-at-any-cost actions.
Originally, Site C was projected to cost $8.8 billion. BC Hydro now projects the cost at $12 billion. But there is more. Greatly increased fracking activity is causing four times the number of earthquakes as predicted, some quakes up to 4.5 on the Richter scale. BC Hydro engineers say this is too much for the nearby dam to withstand. Another $1.8 billion to shore up the new dam may be necessary, even before it opens. It is impossible to know the highest extent of future earth quakes. So, the costly fix may not work and there could be a catastrophic structural failure.
Horgan’s review of the Site C project in 2017 indicated that shutting the project down would have cost $1.8 billion. Horgan, more oriented to mostly make-believe jobs and the dream (nightmare?) of an LNG deal would not spend that much for nothing, as he saw it. He fell face first into the fallacy of sunk cost, being mesmerized by money already spent.
The government opted instead for a massively expensive hydrocarbon infrastructure project, the last thing anyone needs. It opted for greatly increased pollution, for trampling the rights of Indigenous people and Peace River farmers, and for delivering at least $6.5 billion in subsidies to the richest cartel on the planet. That means at least $13.8 billion to the public hydro utility for a dam that may never work.
Horgan, a proud man, is unlikely to admit his catastrophic error and halt these projects. What is needed is a powerful mass movement of Indigenous people, opponents of global warning, youthful white supporters of indigenous rights, and workers who do not want to pour billions in good money after bad — and who want their children to have a livable planet. After all the protests so far against these projects, such a movement is more likely than many may think.