B.C.’s most insidious fossil fuel company throws a Hail Mary

Monday, July 18, 2022
FortisBC lobbying at work

In 2021, gas utility FortisBC built ten thousand tiny pipelines to deliver gas to new customers. Almost all that gas comes from extremely polluting fracking operations that use chemicals, sand and pressure to shatter the rock deep below the province’s northeast. Each of these homes and businesses will rely on this fossil fuel for the foreseeable future, likely until a bylaw requires them to sever the connections and replace them with electric heat pumps and appliances.

Anybody who lived through last year’s deadly climate disasters can see that’s a problem. Yet the provincial government still allows FortisBC to connect new gas lines. Banning new buildings from using fracked gas would be an easy, instant win to help BC get back on track to meet its climate targets, so why hasn’t it been done already?

Clean LNG is a dirty lie on projected onto Canada Place
Clean LNG is a dirty lie message projected onto Canada Place during a conference for Canada Gas & LNG (Photo: Fay Lam Photography).

It might have something to do with the more than 150 lobbying events FortisBC has registered in over the last year. In these meetings, the company does its best to sell public servants and elected representatives on its vision for decarbonization — one where it remains the dominant seller of space and water heating. 

FortisBC’s plan is a life-preserver for its profits, and similarly contains a giant hole in the middle. It wants to sell its new customers biogas, or gas made from plants. Of course the only problem is that it couldn’t possibly create anywhere near enough biogas to replace all the fracked gas currently in its pipes. At best it would be able to cover about 2.2 per cent of it harvesting gas from organic waste. Continuing to expand that system only makes it even harder to do that. 

Saturn Island Fracking
Saturn Island fracking (Photo: Peter McCartney, Wilderness Committee).

This is not a serious proposal to eliminate carbon pollution. It’s at best a bad distraction that lets FortisBC continue its business as usual for a few more years while regulators come to that conclusion. Any climate expert will tell you the answer to clean space and water heating is heat pumps powered with renewable energy, something this province has in abundance. 

Instead, FortisBC wants to put together a complex system to label gas that comes from fracking as renewable because it offsets it with biogas in another jurisdiction. So it’ll pay a rancher in the American midwest to harness cow farts and then declare the gas for a new townhome complex in Kelowna emissions-free. This absurd, desperate, unnecessary scheme only serves to delay real climate action and make it harder for other jurisdictions to decarbonize. 

Most of the biogas the company does plan to produce within BC is not from organic waste, as their slick advertising campaigns suggest. Rather, FortisBC actually plans to cut down forests to turn them into biogas. There is absolutely nothing green about logging to produce biogas when renewable electricity can heat our homes instead. Only a company focused on saving its own future rather than the planet could come up with this maneuver. 

FortisBC tends to use “renewable and low-carbon gas” interchangeably with biogas, when they are not the same thing. It paints rosy projections of how it can replace fossil fuels in its system, but the bulk of its forecast supply would come from fossil hydrogen. Unlike green hydrogen made from renewable energy, fossil hydrogen is made from fracked gas with steam at high pressures and is not emissions-free.

It’s clear FortisBC’s lofty promises of fueling your furnace with gas made from banana peels are at best a clever marketing campaign. Even if the company manages to produce enough biogas or clean hydrogen, it’s still better to replace existing gas than simply add these new products to the system. That’s the only way to end the use of fossil fuels in our province. There’s no justifiable reason why the provincial government shouldn’t ban new gas connections and mandate electric appliances — starting now.

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