The expansion of the BC natural gas industry to possibly include LNG terminals for export is one of the biggest topics in northern BC. And when there’s a big economic topic, you can count on UNBC Economics students to talk about it.
For many years now, they’ve presented an annual symposium on the main economic issues of the day: the BC carbon tax (2008), the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics (2005), the Northern Gateway pipeline (2011). Today, it was LNG and students asked “What Should BC Do With Its Natural Gas?” The event was so popular, extra chairs were needed.
The symposium was sponsored by Fortis BC and the company took a unique approach to the event. Rather than simply provide the University with funds to attract external speakers, the Fortis sponsorship provided four students with $1500 research grants to explore different parts of the natural gas issue. Their papers – covering topics such as the production of natural gas, domestic consumption vs export, and environmental and social impacts – served as the basis for the opening discussion and framed the program for the remainder of the day.
Claire Stechishin provided data on global natural gas consumption and the relationship between producers (Russia, Canada, the US) and consumers (the US, China, Europe) that is based on infrastructure such as pipelines. Deng Menyang followed this with data on the global flow of LNG from countries such as Qatar, Malaysia, and Australia to distant markets in Europe and Asia. Clearly, liquefaction technology is changing longstanding relationships between producers and consumers and allowing countries in Asia especially to rapidly increase their natural gas consumption (from 13-19% of global natural gas consumption in the last decade alone). Adam Vickers then showed how an LNG industry in BC might nearly double the natural gas industry’s greenhouse gas emissions and he highlighted other social factors: the supply of skilled labour, the housing stock available for workers, and consequences for security and sovereignty. Joshua Mann concluded by focusing on the situation for BC, which ended up being presented as a series of questions:
- Are the people in the northern region likely to benefit from the LNG opportunity in terms of employment?
- Are the airsheds around proposed LNG terminals able to handle increased industrial emissions?
- How will First Nations communities and municipalities be affected?
- Are provincial and federal laws appropriate and will they be enforced?
- How will we – or should we – invest any royalties from natural gas?
All are good questions and led to Joshua’s statement that “You could work on this for 10 years and still not have all the answers.” True. But all of the students acknowledged that their research project gave them more knowledge than they had before they began five months ago. They also know that there is still much more to learn. Joshua summed it up well: “I know more but I have more questions now than when I started on this research five months ago.”