Talk of LNG as clean fuel alternative risks losing sight of climate goals: experts

The progressive side of Canada’s fossil fuel energy debate is pushing back against the prospect of relying on natural gas as a path to a carbon-free future.

High prices and a surge in demand, largely as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, are fueling the idea that liquefied natural gas could replace coal fuel around the world.

But critics say it’s a short-sighted and counterproductive notion that ignores economic and practical realities in Canada and globally.

Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are becoming more viable every day, said Nichole Dusyk, senior policy advisor at the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Renewable energy has the added advantage of not becoming a global commodity subject to market forces, Dusyk said.

She added that it’s no secret that Canada can’t properly export its vast natural gas resources — and even if it can address capacity challenges, it’s too late to meet current demand.

“High prices are affecting people’s judgment about the long-term economic prospects of natural gas,” Dusyk said in an interview.

“The global gas outlook is falling, not rising.”

The idea of ​​using natural gas as an interim solution to the challenge of meeting today’s energy demands while reducing carbon emissions has gained traction in recent months.

Japan, host of the weekend’s global climate summit, has come under fire for a proposed strategy that relies heavily on liquefied natural gas, ammonia and other fossil fuel derivatives as a means of reducing emissions.

The Group of Seven environment and climate ministers meeting in Sapporo reportedly opposed Japan’s efforts to include LNG-friendly language in the draft statement, including calling for further investment amid growing demand.

A recent report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Business Center proposes increasing Canada’s LNG export capacity as a global alternative to coal-fired energy.

“We’re in a very strange place right now,” Dusyk said, noting that global condemnation of Russia — long an important source of energy for Europe — led to a dramatic short-term spike in gas prices.

“Europe is actively looking around the world” for alternatives, but “it’s not looking for LNG in the long run.”

Dusyk’s own research concluded there was a “fundamental mismatch” between Canada’s capacity crunch and the dire needs of Europe and other countries once dependent on Russia.

The institute predicts that the EU could completely wean itself off Russian gas as early as 2025, which is too early for Canada to address its capacity challenges.

Canada may have abundant natural gas reserves but lack the infrastructure capacity to export it overseas, she said. Liquefaction also requires large amounts of clean electricity to keep emissions low — electricity that could otherwise be used for other applications, such as charging electric cars, she added.

“You can lower emissions, but by its very nature, it’s energy intensive.”

At the same time, discussions around LNG threaten to divert attention away from developing sustainable, renewable infrastructure systems that are increasingly viable.

“The cost of renewable energy, whether it’s batteries, wind or solar, has dropped dramatically … and in many markets, renewables are the cheapest,” Dusyk said.

A chamber of commerce report released earlier this month suggested that the infrastructure needed to export Canadian LNG could eventually be converted to a delivery system for hydrogen, another important alternative to fossil fuels.

But Dusyk said she hasn’t seen any analysis that suggests such a switch is feasible.

James McCarten, Canadian Press

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