Vancouver, August 12, 2021 – After a summer of climate reckoning in BC marked by a deadly heat dome and severe wildfires, the take-home message this week from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2021 Report could not be more stark: not only is human-induced global heating to blame for these disasters, but we also have a rapidly shrinking window of time to slash our carbon emissions to ensure a livable planet.
Yet many in BC are unaware that the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry, whose hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) wells across northeastern BC provide the fossil fuel that powers many of our gas stoves, home heating systems and ferries, is an outsized climate-change culprit. Today, physicians and nurses are raising the alarm—and billboards—over the significant harms to human health and climate change caused by natural gas extraction and use in BC.
Dr. Kevin Liang, a University of British Columbia family medicine resident and member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for Environment (CAPE), went door to door last summer in his parents’ Delta neighbourhood distributing flyers opposing the expansion of the nearby Tilbury LNG plant. The fact that most of his neighbours had no idea what LNG or fracking were inspired him to team up with other BC-CAPE members this summer to launch Unnatural Gas, a public education and advocacy campaign featuring an engaging and interactive website, sign-on letter to MLAs, and billboards strategically placed near the Tsawwassen ferry terminal—right beside the ferries that burn LNG.
“As a young doctor I’m already seeing the negative health outcomes of climate change in my patients,” says Dr. Liang. “If we don’t reduce our fossil fuel use now, those harms will skyrocket over the rest of my career. Too many people in BC are unaware of the major climate criminal in our backyard—so we’re trying to change that with our Unnatural Gas campaign.”
During the extraction and transportation processes, fracking and its infrastructure also pollute the air, land and water in the Peace region, use vast quantities of freshwater, overtake BC’s valuable farmland and worsen the health of families, farmers and Indigenous peoples locally and downstream. Alarmingly, research and local reports from physicians link increased rates of cancer, lung disease and negative pregnancy outcomes to nearby fracking. Unsurprisingly, doctors, professionals and their families are moving away from the region due to concerns about the health risks.
“We need to take a stand now against the unhealthy local effects of the fracking industry,” offers Helen Boyd, a Comox registered nurse and BC representative of the Canadian Association of Nurses for the Environment (CANE) who has spent over a decade working on social justice issues in her community. “While we burn LNG down south, families and ecosystems in the north are unfairly paying the price for our ongoing use of fossil fuels.”
After travelling through the smoky interior of BC to visit family this summer, Dr. Deborah Curry, a BC-CAPE member and Vancouver family physician, is especially concerned about the additional risks gas stoves pose to indoor air quality. “Natural-gas kitchen appliances emit nitrogen dioxide, which studies show can pollute indoor air and exacerbate asthma attacks in children. Adding this to climate-change-induced wildfire smoke is a recipe for poor lung health.”
Methane—which has 86 times the warming potential of CO2 over a 20-year period—is the main component of LNG. Currently at its highest atmospheric levels in 800,000 years, research indicates it leaks into the air across the supply chain at double the rate previously estimated. This is why IPCC scientists indicated in their recent report that controlling methane now is one of the most effective ways to tackle global heating. Yet despite a commitment to a 40% greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030, and a promise to achieve net-zero by 2050, the provincial government has doubled down on subsidies to the LNG industry since it took power in 2017, spending an estimated $1.3 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2020-21. These subsidies are set to surpass $1.8 billion in 2023-24—more than triple what the previous government spent in 2016-2017.
“Subsidizing the LNG industry is the last thing we should be doing in a climate crisis,” says Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver family physician and President-elect of CAPE. “There’s virtually no way we can achieve net-zero by 2050 without ending fracking expansion in BC. Our government needs to pivot immediately towards a clean-energy economy to ensure a healthy present and future for our children.”
CAPE and CANE are calling on the BC government to take action now to protect the health of its residents—because investments in fracking and LNG have no place in a clean BC or a heating climate.
1. A moratorium on fracking expansion. Because natural gas extraction harms the health of people living near fracking wells and intensifies the climate crisis, the BC government should stop all new fracking development.
2. A just transition for workers. Support should be provided to workers and Indigenous communities impacted by LNG production to transition to a clean-energy economy, including financial support for retraining, and a guarantee of good, zero emissions jobs.
3. Investments in zero emissions buildings. Natural gas hook-ups should be banned in all new buildings by 2023, with buildings in the north given until 2025 to comply. Investments should be made in retraining programs for workers to build affordable zero emissions buildings, and retrofitting all existing buildings for zero emissions.
4. Ending fossil fuel subsidies. The provincial government should end all fossil fuel subsidies as defined by the World Trade Organization, including direct spending, tax breaks, transfer of risk, and public finance.
Helen Boyd, RN, MA
CAPE board member and BC representative for CANE