Blog: Will British Columbia power a rising Asia?

When Christy Clark visited the Jiangsu Liquefied Natural Gas Terminal last November, the scale and location of the facility clearly impressed our premier.

“God, we’re so far out it’s like we’re in the middle of nowhere,” I recall her saying.  We were. Each day tankers filled with LNG dock here from Qatar, Yemen, Australia and Russia.

Located a few hours north of Shanghai – and extending 11 kilometers into the Yellow Sea – the LNG terminal has three storage tanks with a fourth under construction. There is enough room at the massive facility to build 14 more tanks, which, when completed, will make it the world’s largest LNG import terminal. If Christy Clark has her way, one day ships with B.C. natural gas will arrive here – and enrich our province with royalty dollars in the billions.

State-owned China National Petroleum Corporation built the facility expecting a massive increase in natural gas shipments in the years ahead.  The facility is  an obvious reminder of Asia’s desire for energy security and the impact it’s having on British Columbia. While LNG imports rose 21 per cent in China in 2013, it’s still a small number considering Japan and Korea imported more than half of the world’s LNG – ten times more gas than the Middle Kingdom.

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The rise of Asia is truly transformative.  If present trends continue, three billion of its residents will enjoy middle-class living standards by mid-century.  Fueling the hopes of sixty per cent of humanity requires energy. This isn’t a debate about the future, but also the present.  Post-financial crisis, Asia’s GDP will grow by 65 per cent by 2020, meaning energy consumption will need to increase by 60 percent – most of that coming from China, India and Indonesia.

Oil and coal will play a major role in meeting some of those demands, but increasingly natural gas will be the true transitional energy source for the world. According to its annual forecast, Exxon says by 2040 natural gas consumption will rise by 65 per cent while coal use will be no higher than it is today.

The energy mix has to change. The air is toxic in Beijing. China is literally choking on its own economic success. A recent announcement by China’s National Development and Reform Commission not only acknowledges the problem, but admits the Chinese are far from meeting their own environmental targets. Xu Shaoshi, the agency’s chairman, blamed “a lack of strong effort to implement industrial restructuring,” effectively admitting the country has been too slow in shutting down highly polluting factories.

Pollution is increasingly a political issue.  The Chinese government is dealing with any angry populace. Pollution is increasingly leading to social unrest. It’s a sentiment Ma Jun, China’s most prominent environmentalist, discussed with us while filming our special in Beijing.

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“For about twenty years it’s been development at whatever cost.  But in the past ten years the government has changed its policy -very much in response to a rising public concern,” he says.

Ma Jun is a realist.  He says the real renewables, wind and solar, are the future, but natural gas is the transitional fuel source that will help China deal with its present energy needs and pollution issues. Those words would put a smile on Christy Clark’s face.  Her own government is prepared to shred its own carbon emission targets in order to sell LNG to Asia.

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“This is the biggest opportunity we had in the history of our province to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world.  We will never have an opportunity to make a contribution as big as this one,” she stated in an interview in Tiananmen Square. Natural gas burns cleaner, but getting it out of the ground isn’t clean.  Fracking, the heavy use of water and chemicals to recover trapped gas, remains highly controversial and a key element in the battle between industry and environmentalists.

“Once you got it extracted and processed you got a gas product, that, yes, burns cleaner than coal or tar sands oil, but the process of extracting it is extremely polluting,” says Ben West from Forest Ethics Advocacy.

There’s no doubt fracking has unleashed an energy revolution that has geopolitical ramifications.  It’s forced British Columbia to view itself as a global player, not just regional.

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Our Energy Future not only looks at the LNG debate in our province, but the shipment of coal to Asia, and pipeline politics as we follow the Kinder Morgan pipeline from Fort McMurray to Vancouver.  The rise of Asia and its desire for energy security has forced British Columbians to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions, too.

We buy Asian products. Yet there are those that say we shouldn’t ship coal to Asia.

The vast majority of B.C. vehicles run on oil from the Alberta oilsands, yet we don’t want to increase pipeline capacity.

China’s rise has taken more than 800 million people out of extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, yet the world can’t afford to have 60 per cent of humanity live like Canadians. Are we not being hypocritical?

Other countries – Australia, US, Nigeria, Qatar, and many other nations – are willing to sell LNG, oil and coal to Asia. Why shouldn’t we?

Why are urban Vancouverites dictating what resource-dependent communities should or shouldn’t sell?

Canada is now an energy superpower. What course we choose when it comes to natural resource development will have tremendous implications on our communities and economy. Ian Anderson, Kinder Morgan’s CEO, says the discussion is especially important in B.C.

“The debate is occurring everywhere, not just in British Columbia. I don’t know it’s happening as publicly and as rapidly as we see in British Columbia right now,” he says.  Adding, “we’ve got four to five years to figure this out because we’re not the only ones chasing the Chinese market.”

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The discussion surrounding natural resource development in our province remains amplified – particularly around LNG development, coal exports and oil pipelines and tankers. The special focuses on all three energy sources, providing a local and international perspective to this debate.  The program involves political leaders, industry officials, environmentalists, business and labor leaders and everyday British Columbians involved in our energy industry.

Filming of “Our Energy Future” began last year and included visits to Kitimat, Fort St. John, the Kootenays, Vancouver, Calgary, Fort McMurray, Shanghai, Rudong, Beijing and Seoul. To travel our province and to China and Korea to better understand the issues surrounding natural resource development has been a tremendous privilege. The enormous opportunities the economic rise of Asia provides British Columbia are truly transformational.  How we choose to move forward will have ramifications for years to come. I hope you can make time to watch.

Jas Johal is a Senior Reporter at Global News.  He was previously the network’s Asia Bureau Chief, first based in New Delhi and later Beijing.  He is the recipient of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s Media Fellowship in 2013.

Our Energy Future: Oil Sands

Our Energy Future: Pipelines and Tankers

Our Energy Future: Coal Train

Our Energy Future: LNG Dreams Pt. 1

Our Energy Future: LNG Dreams Pt. 2

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