Pacific Energy Corporation and Enbridge want 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 numerous times in their many other projects in Asia.
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. Ever since, the company has been postponing construction. However, the company still hopes to start building the terminal in 2023. It would need another 4 years to start operations.
Marine Life at Risk, Again
Pacific Energy wants to build the LNG terminal on the site of a former pulp and paper mill it bought in 2015. 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. It stretches deep into the snow-capped mountains. Eagles, black bears, grizzly bears, caribou and deer live on the shores of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound. Its waters are home to harbor seals, whales, porpoises, dolphins and seabirds.
Deep below the surface lies an underwater world of living dinosaurs: glass sponge reefs cover the floor of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound. For decades, scientists knew of these glass sponge reefs only as fossil relics that became extinct 40 million years ago. But in 1986, they rediscovered prehistoric glass sponge species in the deep waters off Canada’s coast. Since the early 2000s, divers have also found 17 of the unique glass sponge reefs in the shallow waters of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound.
Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound’s underwater life is only now recovering from the toxic legacy of industrial pollution. 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. Until the early 2000s, the fjord was among the most polluted areas in North America. Herring and salmon had disappeared from it, and along with them, much of the underwater life. Only the mutual effort of indigenous communities, scientists and citizens has brought the lifeless chemical stew of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound back to life. They placed streams and rivers under protection, replanted native species and surveyed the fish. Gradually, herring and salmon returned to the water. Dolphins, seals and whales followed them.
Woodfibre LNG is a threat to the recovering underwater world of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound. Gigantic LNG carriers would travel through the fjord between 72 and 96 times every year. Numerous tug boats and pilot boats would accompany them. All of this traffic would fill the waters of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound with intense noise. Tanker propellers, motors and the operating LNG terminal create industrial sounds that echo through the water. This loud noise would distract and confuse orca whales, salmon and herring. Many underwater species rely on sound to find food, communicate, navigate and protect their territories.
Anything But “Clean” LNG
Pacific Energy made big claims when it branded Woodfibre LNG as “the cleanest LNG export facility in the world”. If it is actually built, Woodfibre LNG would be anything but clean. Pacific Energy wants to process fracked gas from the province of British Columbia (BC) in the terminal. Fracking is an extremely harmful way to extract fossil gas from the ground. It can poison freshwater with chemicals, create earthquakes, pollute the air and make people sick. In addition, many fracking wells leak methane directly into the atmosphere. Methane is a climate killer: over a 20-year period, it is 86 times more powerful at heating the atmosphere compared to carbon dioxide. Many countries around the world have banned fracking due to its harmful effects.
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. The media outlet The Globe and Mail looked into these donations. They found that a large part of them was illegal.
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. Without BC’s financial support, the plans for Woodfibre LNG would possibly be no more than a bizarre business idea.
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. Pacific Energy is part of the Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) company empire. RGE is an industry conglomerate in the palm oil, paper and energy business. In Asia, RGE has frequently violated human rights, destroyed rainforests, evaded taxes and committed fraud.
In 2013, Greenpeace identified the owner of the RGE empire, Sukanto Tanoto, as the “single largest driver of deforestation in the world”. One of the many companies he owns is APRIL, an enormous pulp and paper producer. To feed its mills, APRIL has cleared huge swathes of rainforest and peatland in Sumatra, Indonesia. The Tanoto-owned company destroyed the homes of orangutans and
tigers. APRIL did not even inform Sumatran farmers before the company forced them off their
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. For years, the Tanoto-owned company shuffled billions of dollars through offshore tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Although Tanoto’s companies promised to improve their business practices, many of them continue to destroy Indonesian forests and evade taxes until today. As if the RGE empire weren’t destructive enough on its own, Pacific Energy has decided to team up with the notorious pipeline company Enbridge to further develop Woodfibre LNG. Enbridge owns the Line 3 tar sands pipeline. Indigenous peoples and environmental activists have been protesting against the company for decades.
Dubious and Dirty Neighbor
Since Pacific Energy announced its plans, opposition has been loud and clear. BC citizens do not want a dirty LNG terminal and a Tanoto-owned company as their new neighbors. After years of delay, some believe that it is only a matter of time before the project dies. BC citizens, the District of Squamish, the underwater world of Átl’ḵa7tsem/Howe Sound and the climate would be the winners if Woodfibre LNG remained a plan on paper.
Groups working on Woodfibre LNG: My Sea to Sky, Concerned Citizens Bowen, Wilderness Committee