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The core idea behind so-called “renewable natural gas” is a good one: capture methane pollution that occurs naturally from landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, and agricultural waste and turn it into a usable source of energy. We’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing the need to source gas from fracking. It’s a win-win.
Or it would be, if FortisBC, British Columbia's privately owned “natural” gas utility, wasn’t deceptively using renewable natural gas to lobby for an expansion of gas infrastructure. Climate scientists and health advocates couldn’t be clearer — to protect the climate and our health, we need to be investing in buildings powered by clean electricity, not methane gas.
All across the province, communities are recognizing the risks methane (a.k.a. natural) gas poses to their residents and the climate and taking action. That’s why over a dozen B.C. municipalities, from North Vancouver to Saanich, already have low-carbon construction policies in place, and many more are poised to follow in the next year.
It seems this is unacceptable to FortisBC. In what appears to be a desperate ploy to save its business model, FortisBC lobbyists have spent the last year on a roadshow trying to convince city councils across the province that we can keep using methane gas now and long into the future because, eventually, renewable natural gas will replace conventional “natural” gas.
But there are three holes in that logic.
First, renewable natural gas is chemically identical to conventional “natural” gas, and regardless of its source — be it a fracking well or excess gas captured from landfills — methane gas is a serious health hazard. It contains carcinogens like benzene, and burning gas inside our homes increases asthma symptoms in children at the same rate as second-hand smoke.
Second, renewable natural gas is seriously expensive to create, costing anywhere from two to 10 times more than conventional gas from fracking wells.
Third, there’s not nearly enough renewable natural gas to pipe into homes and businesses to replace conventional gas, and there never will be.
According to FortisBC’s own numbers, renewable natural gas accounts for only about one per cent of B.C.’s gas use. What’s more, it’s commonly accepted in many jurisdictions (including Washington state) that this number could never realistically surpass five per cent of total demand, unless the definition is twisted to include other energy sources.
FortisBC is distorting a genuine climate solution into a tool to keep pushing polluting methane gas, writes @lizmcdowell #bcpoli #climate
FortisBC lobbyists will point to a report the company published with the B.C. government that claims there will be more than enough “renewable and low-carbon gases” by 2050 to meet an ever-increasing gas demand.
However, what they fail to mention — but what can be gleaned by even a quick scan of the report itself — is that only a tiny fraction of those “renewable and low-carbon gases” will actually be renewable natural gas from waste sources.
Nearly all the rest will be supplied by hydrogen created by burning fracked gas and syngas created by burning wood pellets (or, as they are more commonly known, trees).
FortisBC’s own report acknowledges this directly, saying traditional renewable natural gas “has lower potential (and) other pathways will be crucial to achieve substantial decarbonization of the natural gas system.”
Continuing to build new gas lines isn’t setting up a renewable-energy future — it’s locking us into relying even more heavily on fracking and unsustainable logging practices.
When it comes to the potential of renewable natural gas, FortisBC and its lobbyists are at best misinformed, and at worst, straight up sharing false information with politicians and community members. Because there are only so many landfills and wastewater treatment facilities, it’s arguably physically impossible to produce enough renewable natural gas to replace B.C.’s consumption of conventional gas. However, if we mistakenly believe replacing conventional gas is possible, we might allow FortisBC to continue connecting our homes to its ever-growing gas network under the false impression that we’re addressing the climate crisis.
Renewable natural gas can be a climate solution — if reserved for extremely hard-to-electrify sectors like cement and other heavy industries. This is where we should be using the small amount of gas that we can produce by capturing pollution leaking from landfills and waste sites.
But piping renewable natural gas into buildings that can be easily and affordably heated and powered with electricity? That’s a mistake our health and the climate can’t afford for us to make.