BC’s CO2 emissions problem

BC’s shale gas reserves

In 2012 the BC Ministry of Energy and Mines reported that northeastern BC’s world-class shale reserves in the Horn River Basin, Liard Basin, Cordova Embayment and Montney Formation have the potential to hold over 1,200 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas. That is a staggering amount of gas. The amount that can be ultimately recovered, of course, remains to be seen, but there is no disputing that northeastern BC’s shale gas plays are world-class.

Shale gas reserves in northeastern BC

Shale gas reserves in northeastern BC

BC’s LNG strategy

Both the governing BC Liberal Party and the opposition NDP endorse developing BC’s shale gas reserves and making LNG exports a key driver of the economy for decades to come. In fact, Premier Christy Clark maintains that BC could one day export 4 Tcf of natural gas per year, almost four times BC’s current production of 1.2 Tcf per year.

In its 2012 report Liquified Natural Gas, A strategy for BC’s Newest Industry, the BC Government has stated that one of its goals with respect to its LNG strategy is to maintain BC’s leadership on climate change. Fundamental to maintaining this leadership would be to meet the government’s own legislated GHG emissions reduction targets, which are a 33% reduction over 2007 levels by 2020, and an 80% reduction by 2050. As the graph below shows, however, based on the government’s LNG strategy, GHG emissions are projected to go up to 87 million tons per year by 2020, instead of down to 45 millon tonnes that BC legislation mandates.

With BC's LNG strategy, BC's GHG emissions will rise dramatically instead of fall

BC’s GHG emissions pathway
Source: Pacific Carbon Trust

The BC Government has conservatively estimated that the Horn River Basin alone has 78 Tcf of recoverable gas. Horn River Basin Horn River Basin shale gas contains 10-12% CO2, much higher than the 2-4.5% of conventional natural gas in BC. If this 78 Tcf of gas is processed about 500 million tonnes of CO2 will be released into the atmosphere. Emitting this CO2 is not just an environmental problem; it’s also an economic problem as BC’s carbon tax will become increasingly punitive to emitters.

Low-carbon gasoline: A solution to BC’s GHG emissions problem

What to do with carbon dioxide emitted by BC’s natural gas industry? Should it be sequestered, as previous administrations have proposed? Not a chance. Carbon sequestration is only a partial solution — at best. Geological formations in the region can accommodate but a fraction of the emissions and costs are punishing. Rather than sequester carbon, a better solution is to recycle it — to make something useful out of it. This is exactly what Blue Fuel Energy plans to do: use waste CO2 to produce methanol, and to process this into gasoline. The technology is proven. The roots of CO2-based methanol reach back to 1920s Germany, where the first gas-to-liquids process was developed. In the 1990s, prize-winning scientist George Olah (USC) extended the concept, propounding the use of renewable electricity and CO2 to produce methanol.

In 2009 Mitsui Chemicals’ Osaka Works plant became the first site in the world to synthesize methanol from its CO2 exhaust, and in 2011 Carbon Recycling International commissioned the world’s first commercial CO2-based methanol plant. Blue Fuel Energy is planning to be amongst the next producers of renewable methanol, and to convert this fuel to the ultimate drop-in fuel: gasoline.