British Columbia Environment Ministry staff have warned their minister that the province's dreamed-of liquefied natural gas industry poses some big challenges with greenhouse gas emissions.
Internal briefing notes prepared for Environment Minister Mary Polak since she took office last year and obtained by The Canadian Press, single out methane emissions for concern.
On top of emissions from combustion and flaring of natural gas, methane and carbon dioxide escape during hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, the documents said.
"Methane emissions are a particular concern since they have a global warming impact 21 times higher than carbon dioxide," said one July briefing note.
"A small increase in the percentage of natural gas that escapes can have a significant impact on overall emissions."
At a meeting last November, staff warned Polak that the federal government has updated its formula for calculating greenhouse gas emissions and that alone will increase methane values by 20 per cent. The province will need to follow suit, members of the Climate Action Secretariat told Polak.
Premier Christy Clark says BC is poised to develop a trillion-dollar LNG industry.
But emissions remain a hurdle for the provinces, which has legislated targets for reductions. Legislation dictates that emissions are to be reduced by at least a third below 2007 levels by 2020.
Polak has also been told that while BC estimates that between 0.3 and three per cent of natural gas extracted is lost as fugitive methane emissions, other North American jurisdictions and scientific literature estimate that rate is between seven and eight per cent.
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates between four and nine per cent is lost.
However, in BC regulations are significantly different, the briefing notes pointed out. Because BC gas contains toxic hydrogen sulfide, leaks are more tightly regulated.
The province's Climate Action Secretariat and Natural Gas Development Ministry are working with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to test technology to curb emissions, said the internal documents.
"Though significant, this work does not address concerns about potential fracking-related emissions from geological formations, poor cement casing or produced water storage tanks," said the briefing prepared last July.
Polak declined a request for an interview.
"Based on academic research and work in the United States, there is concern that fugitive or unplanned emissions from oil and gas facilities are higher than currently reported in BC," the ministry said in an emailed statement to The Canadian Press.