The fossil fuel story
Natural gas, oil, and coal are all fossil fuels created over millions of years by decaying animal or plant material that is buried under layers upon layers of earth. The heat and pressure of the earth’s crust turn these plant and animal materials into hydrocarbons, the main component in fossil fuels. All fossil fuels release C02, or greenhouse gas, when burned.
What is natural gas?
Natural gas is a colorless, odourless, and tasteless gas that is flammable. It is lighter than air and non-toxic. Uses for natural gas include: residential heating and cooking, industrial purposes as fuel, or it can be converted into electricity.
How do we get natural gas out of the ground?
British Columbia has significant natural gas reserves, including newly discovered reserves deep underground in the northeastern part of the province. Because these reserves contain something called ‘unconventional shale gas,’ accessing the reserves and extracting the gas requires a special technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This process uses a fluid (usually a mixture of water, soap, and sand) to create a pathway for natural gas to flow up through a rock bed, then a well so it can be pumped to the surface.
Why is natural gas so popular?
Natural gas is a ‘clean burning’ fossil fuel. It produces half as much C02, or greenhouse gas, as coal, and two-thirds as much as oil. Natural gas is considered a ‘transition gas’ that will reduce harmful greenhouse gases while we transition to clean energy sources.
The idea that natural gas is considered a ‘transition gas’ has been criticized because of the by-products released during the extraction period, the cost of building LNG related infrastructures, and because it is still a fossil fuel that releases C02.
So, what is LNG?
Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is natural gas converted to a liquid in a cooling process. Natural gas is liquefied because in its liquid form it is condensed and much easier to store and transport.
Before LNG can be used by consumers, it must be returned to a gaseous state. This is done by warming up the gas in a specialized factory.
Where do pipelines fit in?
Pipelines are part of the transmission portion of LNG projects. Their purpose is to transport natural gas from the extraction site, to the compression site where it will be turned into liquefied natural gas and loaded on ships for sale overseas.
Pipelines are considered a less risky method of transportation than rail or automobile because spills/leaks are less frequent. However, when leaks happen in a pipeline, the volume of the leak is much greater.
Pipelines are also significantly more economical. They transport higher volumes, more quickly and are considerably more efficient.
LNG, when properly processed, is the least polluting of all hydrocarbon fuels. If released from a ruptured line it dissipates quickly in the air until it can be brought under control. That is not to say a natural gas leak is harmless. Avery large spill has the ability to seep into human and animal respiratory and nervous systems, causing them to be poisoned.
Bitumen pipelines, however, present catastrophic environmental risks in every stage of its transportation. It is a very thick, gooey-like substance and is more difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. The effects are very obvious to the landscape as it tends to stick around as tar balls or spreads as a thick layer on wildlife and their natural surroundings.