Groups opposed to liquefied natural gas (LNG) development in Canada have stated a belief that when it comes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, LNG is worse for the environment than coal. These activist campaigns attempt to counter the idea that creating a Canadian LNG industry is an opportunity to create jobs and economic growth here in Canada — contributing to Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery — while helping lower worldwide GHG emissions by displacing coal for heat and power generation in Asia.
The crux of their argument is that methane leaks — called fugitive emissions – from natural gas production, and emissions from the energy needed to liquefy, transport and regasify LNG, offset the clear advantage natural gas has over coal when combusted to generate electricity.
The problem is it’s just not true. LNG is better in general, and especially if it comes from Canada, a world leader in responsible production of natural gas.
How Canada’s natural gas industry is reducing emissions
Canada’s upstream natural gas production and LNG facilities both proposed and under construction are the epitome of what the International Energy Agency (IEA) classifies as clean LNG. That’s because two aspects of Canadian natural gas production help reduce emissions compared to other jurisdictions: 1) reduced venting, flaring, and fugitive methane emissions; and 2) reduced overall GHG emissions through electrification of both upstream operations and LNG facilities.
Natural gas is primarily made up of methane. Leaks from various processes during natural gas production, processing and transportation are called fugitive emissions. Canadian companies have high standards for monitoring and eliminating such leaks. And Canada is continually improving. We are the only nation in the world to have a methane reduction target from oil and natural gas operations: 45 per cent reduction from 201 emission levels by 2025.
Additionally, venting and flaring are controlled releases of natural gas (not leaks). These releases are strictly regulated in Canada to minimize methane release into the atmosphere. In fact, Canada is a world leader in this regard. A 2018 study by the University of Calgary, funded by Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and published in the journal Science, concluded that global emissions from natural gas and oil production could be reduced by up to 23 per cent should Canadian regulations governing venting and flaring be adopted worldwide.
Emissions are produced when fuels such as diesel are used to generate power or drive engines at natural gas drilling and production sites, and at LNG facilities. However, many Canadian natural gas producers and LNG facilities are looking to eliminate these emissions from these sources by using hydroelectricity instead of diesel or natural gas. In fact, many facilities in B.C. have already substantially reduced emissions through the substitution of electricity, and are looking for ongoing opportunities to eliminate or reduce emissions from sources across the natural gas and LNG value chain where it is technically and economically feasible..
For example, using hydroelectricity to power the three largest gas processing facilities in B.C. already reduces GHG emissions by 860,000 tonnes per year. Developers of the Kitimat LNG facility are proposing an all-electric design. And LNG Canada is proposing partial electrification of its facility under construction near Kitimat, B.C., which will reduce GHG emission intensity to approximately half of the global average for LNG production.
In 2019, the IEA released a report titled The Role of Gas in Today’s Energy Transitions. The IEA’s analysis includes direct carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from combustion, plus fugitive methane emissions from natural gas production. The report notes, “On average, coal-to-gas switching reduces emissions by 50 per cent when producing electricity, and by 33 per cent for providing heat. Best practices along the natural gas supply chain, especially to reduce methane leaks, are essential to maximize the climate benefits of switching to natural gas.”
“On average, coal-to-gas switching reduces emissions by 50 per cent when producing electricity.”International Energy Agency, 2019
GHG emissions resulting from partial or full electrification make Canadian LNG an obvious choice as the world strives to reduce carbon emissions. The opportunity to reduce global GHG emissions by displacing coal-fired power generation with natural gas-fired power generation supplied by clean LNG is significant. The IEA recognizes the importance of implementing best practices along the natural gas supply value chain and the associated potential for effectively addressing climate change by switching from coal to natural gas.
The bottom line:
Emissions don’t respect borders – once released, these emissions become part of the global atmosphere. Reducing net global emissions requires a global approach, and that’s why responsibly produced clean Canadian LNG can help reduce overall global emissions.