Climate change is already being felt here in BC. Our coast is seeing warmer waters, which the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says is causing salmon declines on the BC coast. Fire seasons in 2017 and 2018 were extreme events driven by climate change, impacting our economy and human health, and costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in firefighting costs. Ocean acidification caused by increased carbon emissions is already impacting the creatures of the Salish Sea, causing shellfish die-offs and disrupting commercial harvests.
The expansion of fossil fuel extraction stands to make all of this worse, and all of us, the people of BC, are paying for it. Premier John Horgan’s government is giving away billions to frackers, pipelines, and LNG terminals.
Governments are never transparent when they are giving money away to fossil fuel companies. For the best year we have information, the 2017-18 budget year, BC gave the oil and gas industry $830 million in subsidies. We know that Premier Horgan’s government has put together $5.35 billion in subsidies for the LNG Canada project, which includes the controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline. BC Hydro will also be paying $205.4 million to build a transmission line to fracking operations in the Peace River area. And the Site C Dam, a $10.7 billion project we are paying for, is slated to power this complex of fossil fuel infrastructure.
And what is all this taxpayer money getting for us? It’s certainly not getting us closer to a clean energy economy. Contrary to the myths of clean, green LNG, BC’s LNG industry is a climate nightmare. The closer people look, the more they find fracking wells leaking methane, which traps heat 84 times as much as carbon dioxide does over a 20 year period. Methane is a huge climate issue, responsible for 25% of current warming. Fracking operations like the ones in BC are a much bigger part of the climate problem than previously thought: a lack of monitoring and oversight means we don’t know how bad the problem is in BC, but recent studies show that methane emissions have been underestimated by up to 40% globally.
And the cost of the province providing financial subsidies to this industry goes beyond climate change. Fracking in BC causes earthquakes, threatening BC Hydro dams in the region. It also causes a host of health problems in nearby communities, something the BC government declined to study in their scientific review of fracking in BC. Pipelines fuel indigenous displacement and division in communities that have been kept poor by government policy for decades. Abandoned fracking wells are a growing financial liability for taxpayers.
All of this fuels a broken political system where politicians routinely break promises to prop up a sunset industry. Premier Horgan promised that LNG Canada would only go ahead if it fit into BC’s climate plan. That climate plan, CleanBC, still has a 5.5 million tonne gap between its goals and projected carbon reductions by 2030. Phase 1 of LNG Canada, the part of the project they have factored into the climate plan, represents 3.45 million tonnes of that gap. Subsidies will only cause emissions from this dangerous industry to grow, making it harder to reach 2040 and 2050 goals.
And it’s important to note that this industry, responsible for 19.8% of BC’s emissions in 2017, employs 0.49% of BC’s workers. LNG may make fossil fuel investors rich, but it’s not going to employ very many people.
We need to shift these billions in subsidies away from fossil fuel companies fueling the fires of climate change, and towards a green economy. We need a just transition for workers that will build that green economy. We need increased investment in sustainable energy, whether community-based solar energy projects like those built by the Tsilhqot’in National Government and City of Nelson, or geothermal projects like the one being explored by the Fort Nelson First Nation. Building retrofits can be BC’s next big megaprojects, employing thousands of workers over a long period of time.
All of this starts with ending subsidies to the companies fueling the climate crisis.