Woodfibre LNG

Location:

Squamish, British Columbia, Canada

Project risks:

Environmental Destruction, Social Harm

Companies:

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approximate location

Pacific Energy Corporation wants to launch a dirty and dubious LNG project on Canada’s Pacific coast: Woodfibre LNG. If it goes ahead, Woodfibre LNG will run on fracked gas and threaten a coastal fjord. Behind Pacific Energy is Indonesian business tycoon Sukanto Tanoto. His companies have already destroyed the environment and evaded taxes in his many other projects in Asia.[1] [2]

Woodfibre LNG is just a plan on paper. In 2013, Pacific Energy (through its wholly-owned subsidiary Woodfibre LNG Limited) launched its plan to export fracked gas from Woodfibre LNG to Asian countries.[4] [5] Ever since, the company has been postponing construction.[6] Pacific Energy has not even made a final investment decision yet, but hopes to build the terminal in 2023.[7] [8] It would still need another 5 years to start operations.[9]

Note:

In October 2021, Pacific Oil & Gas Limited changed its name to Pacific Energy Corporation Limited.[3]

Marine Life at Risk, Again

Pacific Energy wants to build its LNG terminal on the site of a former pulp and paper mill it bought in 2015.[10] [11] The remains of the old mill sit on the banks of Howe Sound, a coastal fjord on Canada’s Pacific shore. The indigenous Squamish people call the fjord Átl’ḵa7tsem.[12] It cuts deep into the Canadian snow-capped mountains.[13] Eagles, black bears, grizzly bears, caribou and deer live on the shores of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound.[14] Its waters are home to harbor seals, whales, porpoises, dolphins and seabirds.[15]

Deep below the surface lies an underwater world of living dinosaurs: glass sponge reefs cover the floor of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound.[16] For decades, scientists knew of these glass sponge reefs only as fossil relics that became extinct 40 million years ago.[17] But in 1986, they rediscovered prehistoric glass sponge species in the deep waters off Canada’s coast.[18] Since the early 2000s, divers have also found 17 of the unique glass sponge reefs in the shallow waters of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound.[19] [20]

Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound’s underwater life is only now recovering from the toxic legacy of industrial pollution.[21] The former Woodfibre pulp mill, a copper mine and other industrial activity in the area poisoned the water, animals and plants of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound for decades.[22] Until the early 2000s, the fjord was among the most polluted areas in North America.[23] Herring and salmon had disappeared from it, and along with them, much of the underwater life.[24] Only the mutual effort of indigenous communities, scientists and citizens has brought the lifeless chemical stew of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound back to life.[25] [26] They placed  streams and rivers under protection, replanted native species and surveyed the fish.[27] Gradually, herrings and salmon returned to the water.[28] Dolphins, seals and whales followed them.[29]

After years of pollution, dolphins have returned to the waters of Howe Sound. Credit: Adam Melnyk / Alamy Stock Photo

Woodfibre LNG is a threat to the recovering underwater world of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound.[30] Gigantic LNG carriers would travel through the fjord between 72 and 96 times every year.[31] [32] Numerous tug boats and pilot boats would accompany them.[33] All of this traffic would fill the waters of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound with intense noise.[34] Tanker propellers, motors and the operating LNG terminal create industrial sounds that echo through the water.[35] This loud noise would distract and confuse orca whales, salmon and herring.[36] Many underwater species rely on sound to find food, communicate, navigate and protect their territories.[37]

Anything But “Clean” LNG

Pacific Energy made big claims when it branded Woodfibre LNG as “the cleanest LNG export facility in the world”.[38] Woodfibre LNG would be anything but clean. Pacific Energy wants to process fracked gas from the province of British Columbia (BC) in its terminal.[39] [40] [41] Fracking is an extremely harmful way to extract fossil gas from the ground.[42] It can poison freshwater with chemicals, create earthquakes, pollute the air and make people sick.[43] [44] Fracking wells are leaking methane directly into the atmosphere.[45] Methane is a climate killer: over a 20-year period, it is 86 times more powerful at heating the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide.[46] Many countries around the world banned fracking due to its harmful effects.[47]

A Result of Lobbying and Subsidies

Pacific Energy has spent a lot of money to get a green light for Woodfibre LNG. Between 2014 and 2017, the company’s subsidiary Woodfibre LNG Limited donated more than CAD 200,000 (ca. EUR 140,000) to the 2 strongest political parties in British Columbia.[48] The media outlet The Globe and Mail looked into these donations. They found that a large part of them was illegal.[49]

At the same time, the government of British Columbia shifted the costs of Woodfibre LNG onto taxpayers. It offered Pacific Energy major discounts on Woodfibre’s electricity bills and halved the tax rate for the company’s LNG.[50] [51] [52] Without BC’s financial support, the plans for Woodfibre LNG could vanish into thin air.[53] [54]

No Respect for Law and Nature

With Woodfibre LNG, Canada is rolling out the red carpet for a business tycoon with a sketchy track record.[55] Pacific Energy is part of the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) company empire.[56] RGE is an industry conglomerate in the palm oil, paper and energy business.[57] In Asia, RGE has frequently violated human rights, destroyed rainforests, evaded taxes and committed fraud.[58]

According to Greenpeace, the owner of the RGE empire, Sukanto Tanoto, is the “single largest driver of deforestation in the world”.[59] One of the many companies he owns is APRIL, an enormous pulp and paper producer.[60] [61] To feed its mills, APRIL has cleared huge swathes of rainforest and peatland in Sumatra, Indonesia.[62] [63] The Tanoto-owned company destroyed the homes of orangutans and
tigers.[64] APRIL did not even inform Sumatran farmers before the company forced them off their
land.[65] [66]

Not only did Tanoto’s APRIL exploit Indonesia’s natural resources, but the company also pocketed the tax benefits generated through them. In 2017, the Paradise Papers revealed that tax evasion was a big part of APRIL’s business.[67] For years, the Tanoto-owned company shuffled billions of dollars through offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.[68] Although Tanoto’s companies promised to improve their business practices, many of them continue to destroy Indonesian forests and evade taxes until today.[69] [70]

Former BC Premier Christy Clark of the Liberal Party is shaking hands with Sukanto Tanoto, owner of RGE, in 2014. Source: Province of British Columbia / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Dubious and Dirty Neighbor

Since Pacific Energy announced its plans, hundreds of people have taken to the streets.[71] [72] BC citizens do not want a dirty LNG terminal and a Tanoto-owned company as their new neighbors.[73] After years of delay, some believe that it is only a matter of time before the project dies.[74] BC citizens, the District of Squamish, the underwater world of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound and the climate would all benefit if Woodfibre LNG remained a plan on paper.

People from Squamish and beyond protest against Woodfibre LNG and the LNG industry. Credit: Jimmy Martinello

Groups working on Woodfibre LNG: My Sea to Sky, Concerned Citizens Bowen, Wilderness Committee

Sources:

[2] Forum Pajak Berkeadilan et al. 2020. The Macao Money Machine: Profit shifting and tax leakage in Indonesia’s pulp exports. https://gfintegrity.org/report/the-macao-money-machine-profit-shifting-and-tax-leakage-in-indonesias-pulp-exports/
[8] Pacific Energy has postponed the final investment decision since 2015: https://financialpost.com/commodities/energy/oil-gas/woodfibre-hires-mcdermott-for-west-coast-lng-export-project
[14] Ocean Watch, 2017. Howe Sound Report: https://oceanwatch.ca/howesound/ p. 9
[15] Ocean Watch, 2017. Howe Sound Report: https://oceanwatch.ca/howesound/ p. 9
[32] Golder Associates Ltd., 2013. Woodfibre LNG Environmental Assessment: Executive Summary. https://www.ceaa.gc.ca/050/documents/p80060/97118E.pdf p. 16. The Environmental Assessment of Woodfibre LNG states that every month, 3-4 LNG carriers would reach the terminal. Over a year, this would amount to 72-96 transits through Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound.
[34] Ocean Watch, 2017. Howe Sound Report. https://oceanwatch.ca/howesound/ p. 233-234
[40] Pacific Canbriam Energy is, just like Woodfibre LNG Limited, a subsidiary of Pacific Energy Corporation which is listed on Urgewald‘s GOGEL 2021.
[54] A 2021 IEEFA report found that LNG Canada could become BC’s first and last LNG terminal and that it is unlikely that any other LNG export facility will proceed. IEEFA, 2021. Review of LNG Canada Project: Delays, Policy Changes, and Rising Costs. https://ieefa.org/ieefa-lng-canadas-bc-project-likely-last-for-countrys-liquefied-natural-gas-industry/
[59] Greenpeace, 2013. Licence to Kill: How deforestation for palm oil is driving Sumatran tigers toward extinction. https://www.greenpeace.org/archive-international/Global/international/publications/forests/2013/LicenceToKill_ENG_LOWRES.pdf p. 20
[60] APRIL stands for Asia Pacific Resources International Holdings Ltd.
[62] Greenpeace, 2013. Licence to Kill: How deforestation for palm oil is driving Sumatran tigers toward extinction. https://www.greenpeace.org/archive-international/Global/international/publications/forests/2013/LicenceToKill_ENG_LOWRES.pdf p. 20
[64] Greenpeace, 2013. Licence to Kill: How deforestation for palm oil is driving Sumatran tigers toward extinction. https://www.greenpeace.org/archive-international/Global/international/publications/forests/2013/LicenceToKill_ENG_LOWRES.pdf p. 20
[70] Koalisi Anti Mafia Hutan et al. 2020. Sustaining Deforestation: APRIL’s Links with PT Adindo Hutani Lestari Undercut “No Deforestation” Pledge. https://auriga.or.id/resources/reports/69/sustaining-deforestation-april-s-links-with-pt-adindo-hutani-lestari-undercut-no-deforestation-pledge