Cognitive Dissonance and the Clash of the Acronyms

Can EGSPA and LNG co-exist and find happiness together in Nova Scotia? That’s a question that has been on my mind for a few years now. EGSPA stands for the  Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act passed unanimously by the Nova Scotia legislature in 2007 and recently hailed in the Ivany report as the kind of co-operation around shared values that should inform our whole approach to politics. The EGSPA legislation, since amended, sets out 25 different environmental goals, including reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. LNG, of course, stands for Liquefied Natural Gas, the production of which will increase GHG emissions. Hence the question.

The pursuit of jobs through the construction and operation of LNG plants actually pre-dates the passage of the EGSPA. At first, the hype was around imports – natural gas from the Middle East or North Africa would be turned into liquid over there, transported by tanker to our shores, then converted back to gas and fed into the pipeline infrastructure created to carry gas from the offshore Sable project. Most of the gas would end up in the U.S. Two projects actually received regulatory approval in the mid-2000s, one at Bear Head, near Port Hawkesbury, the other at Goldboro, hard by landfall for the pipeline from Sable.  The Goldboro project approved by  Nova Scotia Environment included not just a gasification plant but  also a GHG-spewing petrochemical plant.

The original promoters of both of the projects left the scene a few years ago, but it was market conditions, not the passage of EGSPA that drove them away.  Nor has EGSPA and its targets for GHG reductions deterred a new group of LNG promoters from clamouring to build export plants to liquefy and ship US shale gas overseas. One outfit has already been approved by the provincial government to build – again at Goldboro – a 10 million tonne per year export plant.  At Bear Head, new owners have picked up where the previous ones left off and are in the midst of seeking approval for a 12 megatonne facility. A third player is active around Melford, across the Canso Strait from Bear Head, claiming it has customers waiting in India, Europe and the Middle East. Each new entrant has been greeted warmly by the Energy Ministry and with business page boosterism about Nova Scotia’s entries in the “race” to be Canada’s the first LNG exporter.

Based on failed expectations from the previous decade, the recent drop in oil prices and the need to obtain export approvals from the US,  there is good reason to question whether any of these projects will ever go ahead. But if they do, they will leave EGSPA’s greenhouse gas reduction targets in tatters. To meet those targets, overall emissions will need to be reduced to 17 megatonnes by 2020 from 2013 levels of about 20 megatonnes. Absent LNG development, hard emission caps on Nova Scotia Power, the biggest GHG polluter, would likely allow us to meet those targets. But LNG plants, which are  essentially huge refrigerators, require large amounts of electricity to cool natural gas to the required minus 162 degrees Celsius. Both the Goldboro and Bear Head promoters plan to generate most of their own electricity using natural gas. The Goldboro plant alone would add 3.8 megatonnes to the overall load. Bear Head’s , with an even larger plant, would probably add at least as much. Tack on another couple of megatonnes for the Bear Head and Melford projects  and instead of 17 megatonnes in 2020, we’re closer to 23, an increase of 20% over 1990 levels. That’s where the cognitive dissonance comes in.

Cutting GHG emissions is one of the higher profile of the 25 goals set out in EGSPA. Much political and ratepayer capital has been invested in achieving reduction targets, mainly by capping emissions from Nova Scotia Power and promoting renewable electricity. The splashiest renewable energy project, Muskrat Falls, is supposed to help NSP to reduce its  GHG emissions by another 40% by 2030. Despite the reduction, NSP will still be permitted to pump out 4.5 million tonnes of GHG annually 15 years from now, an unacceptable scenario to many environmentalists.  But while further greening of the power grid to achieve GHG reduction goals is being debated, the impact of LNG development on those goals – the proverbial elephant in the room – is being ignored by politicians and media.

The Liberal government’s approval last March of the Goldboro project was criticized by the Ecology Action Centre, citing the 18% increase in GHG emissions that would result from the development. That intervention attracted little – if any – notice, perhaps understandable (but not justified) given its “dog bites man” character. But a more recent and less predictable expression of concern has also disappeared down the political and media black hole reserved for inconvenient truths.

Under EGSPA, the Minister of Environment is required to report every year on progress in meeting the various goals of the act. The report is then reviewed by the Minister’s Round Table on the Environment and Sustainable Development and the report and review are released together. In 2013, the newly-elected Liberals did not produce a report, a failure that went pretty much unnoticed by the political and media mainstream. Last year, the government got its act together sufficiently to produce a report covering developments in  both 2012 and 2013, along with a review by the Round Table. Although the 2014 report is available on line, it was released without any public announcement, and as near as I can tell, no coverage in the media. Which is too bad,  because there is a bit of “man bites dog” news there in the Round Table’s comments on LNG.   To quote the Round Table review: “…LNG facilities (given that extracting, processing, transporting and liquefying natural gas are all energy intensive processes that release greenhouse gases), may have significant consequences regarding emissions. These factors should be closely evaluated in determining policy towards these developments.”

The eleven-member Round Table is headed by environment consultant  Martin Janowitz and includes one member at large, a corporate lawyer with expertise in utility regulation, and representatives of eight other entities – the Ecology Action Centre, the Dalhousie Centre for Water Resources Study, the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, the Atlantic Institute for Sustainability, the Nova Scotia Environment Network, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute, the Forest Products Association of Nova Scotia and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

If this well-balanced group, representing a fairly broad cross-section of interests, can bring itself to at least consider the complexities of co-existence between EGSPA and LNG, can the government be far behind? Sadly, the answer is yes. In his introduction to the report, Environment Minister Randy Delorey all but brushes off the Round Table’s concerns. “As resources allow, we will be looking to address the Round Table’s suggestions, such as … how to monitor potential industrial developments.” In the meantime, of course, his Department has approved one major LNG project and is evaluating another while the government he is part of has rolled out the welcome mat for the industry. So in the battle of the acronyms, score a win for LNG and GHG over EGSPA.

 

About Richard Starr

RICHARD STARR has had careers as a journalist, public servant, broadcaster, political staffer and freelance policy adviser. He is author of numerous newspaper and magazine articles, appearing in everything from Atlantic Insight to Atlantic Progress. A lifelong student of Maritime history, Starr is married to playwright and former MP Wendy Lill. They live in Dartmouth.
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